DEFENCE

PLA reveals how captain 'stopped submarine from falling into 3,000-metre trench'

Officer awarded military's second-highest honour for saving crew from certain death, but incident also a rare admission of machinery failure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 5:48pm

China’s military has given top awards to the captain and crew of a submarine that stopped their ailing vessel from plummeting into an ocean trench 3,000 metres deep and averting a fatal crash.

However, the incident, which appeared in a front-page PLA Daily report about the awards, also constituted a rare admission by the People’s Liberation Army of a malfunction in military hardware.

The Central Military Commission cited Wang Hongli, captain of the submarine number 372, for calmly reversing the disaster during a routine patrol in deep waters. It happened at an undisclosed location earlier this year.

The report said the submarine encountered a sudden fall in water density and a subsequent change in water pressure, causing damage to the pipelines of the engine room.

The sub started to plunge straight into a deep trench in the ocean.

Wang, of the South Sea Fleet, calmly gave out orders and within three minutes, steered them out of danger, the report said.

Its submersible system went back to normal three hours later and 372 continued its patrol, which lasted for 20 days. Full details of the incident were classified.

The South Sea Fleet's area of responsibilities are northern regions of the Taiwan strait and southern areas from James Shoal including the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank and the disputed Spratly Islands.

Wang and his subordinates were given the “First Grade Award”, which is the second-highest award in the military.

Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy and a member of the CMC, which is the PLA’s topmost command, announced the decision to award the captain and crew on Tuesday afternoon.

Wu was in a meeting attended by more than 1,100 soldiers and officers, the PLA Daily said.

The awards came at a time when the military pledged to set a new reward rule based on practical military experiences rather than rank.

Observers see that as an attempt to rebuild the public’s confidence in the military, which has been rocked by a series of high-profile corruption scandals, including that of former CMC chairman Xu Caihou, who was charged with graft in late June.

Among the allegations against Xu was that he pocketed millions from selling off military promotions and ranks.

Military operations, especially failed ones, are sensitive topics for the state media.

Professor Liu Guijie, from the Ocean University of China, told the South China Morning Post that at a depth of 3,000 metres, the submarine would “without any doubt” crash.

Liu said submarines typically reach depths of 300 to 500 metres.

“It’s really dangerous. In this case, the water density suddenly falls and as a consequence the buoyant force would also decrease, which would make the watercraft plummet,” Liu said.

“That’s also why the navy needs to make careful studies of the water situation in deep water before operations.”