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May 29, 2017

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Humanitarian relief drills staged in waters off Taiping Island

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The nation's first-ever cross-agency humanitarian relief exercise was staged Tuesday in waters off Taiping Island in the South China Sea, the R.O.C. Coast Guard Administration (CGA) said.

Codenamed "Nanyuan No. 1. (南援一號)," which literally means "assistance to the south," the CGA said the drills were presided over by CGA Minister Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) and involved the CGA, Navy and Air Force.

Journalists from several international wire services and Japanese media outlets were invited to cover the event, the CGA said.

The drill came after President Tsai Ing-wen pledged to develop Taiping Island into an international rescue center.

It also represented the first major joint exercise between Taiwan's Coast Guard and local armed forces since the Permanent Court of Arbitration's controversial July 12 ruling that Taiping is a rock rather than an island.

According to the CGA, the drill simulated responses to a fire that had broken out on a foreign freighter operating in waters near Taiping Island.

After receiving the distress call during the drill, Taiwan's National Rescue Command Center (國搜中心) immediately dispatched CGA and Navy patrol vessels to rescue crew members.

The CGA dispatched its 3,000-ton patrol vessel, the CG-129 Kaohsiung (高雄艦), while the Navy sent its Panshih (磐石) supply vessel for the drills.

In the simulation, after CGA personnel extinguished the fire on the freighter, they sent injured personnel to Taiping Island, where they were taken to a hospital to receive emergency treatment via remote video conference that allowed doctors in Taiwan Proper to offer advice, it noted.

Following initial treatment at the hospital in Taiping, the patients were later sent back to the hospital in Pingtung County by the R.O.C. Air Force' C-130 transport aircraft to conclude the exercise, the CGA said.

According to the CGA, Taiwan's Coast Guard and the Navy have assisted 100 people in 70 emergencies in waters near Taiwan-controlled Dongsha and Taiping islands in the South China Sea.

Lawmakers across party lines have previously expressed support for humanitarian relief drills at Taiping Island, saying that the move would help to realize Tsai's call to make the island an international humanitarian relief and resupply base while at the same time showing neighboring countries that Taiwan has the military capability to safeguard its territory in the South China Sea.

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