Update | Taiwan launches investigation into deadly navy anti-ship missile misfire
Authorities on the island say petty officer who fired missile was unsupervised at the time, and he set weapon to ‘attack’ mode
Taiwan’s security and military authorities have launched an investigation into how a missile was misfired into the Taiwan Strait on Friday, killing a local fisherman and further straining already tense ties with the mainland.
The navy said seven officers including the petty officer who fired the missile, and navy commander Huang Shu-kuang would be disciplined.
Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, demanded a “responsible” explanation from Taipei, saying the incident was “very serious”. Some military experts also questioned how the misfire could have happened – a missile must clear at least three procedures before it can be fired.
The petty officer on the navy’s Chinchiang (PGC-610) patrol ship fired a Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship missile from its naval base in Kaohsiung, south of the island, during a drill inspection. He was unsupervised at the time and set the missile to “attack” mode rather than “test”. Two minutes later, the missile landed in waters off the Penghu islands, according to the navy. The navy originally said the missile did not cause any casualties, but later said it hit a fishing boat operating nearby.
“Initial findings showed the Hsiang Li Sheng fishing boat was hit and its captain, identified by his family name Huang, was killed,” defence ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said hours after the incident.
Navy Vice-Admiral Mei Chia-shu said three crew members were slightly injured and sent for medical treatment in the southern city of Tainan by one of the six naval vessels dispatched to the scene. “The missile penetrated the middle part of the boat,” he said.
Asked why the boat did not break into pieces after the penetration, Mei said the missile would not explode until it hit its set target. He said naval authorities would take responsibility and offer compensation once the inquiry was complete. The military did not detect any unusual moves by the mainland after the launch, he said.
Mei said the missile did not pass the mid-course line of the Taiwan Strait, which meant it was not aimed at Fujian province. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council later said it would communicate its findings through the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation. But Zhang Zhijun said he had not received any information from the Taiwanese side.
“While we have repeatedly stressed that the two sides must maintain peaceful development of relations under the political basis of the 1992 consensus, I think an incident like this is very serious,” Zhang said in Beijing. “The Taiwanese side must explain to us what was going on in a responsible manner.”
Dialogue between Beijing and Taipei stalled after the island’s new president Tsai Ing-wen did not explicitly acknowledge the consensus over the “one China” principle.
The Hsiung Feng III, with a range of about 300km, was developed to counter threats from Beijing, which has warned that it would attack the island should it declare independence.
Lu Li-shih, a retired naval captain, questioned how such a misfire could have happended. A launch requires at least three procedures to fire a missile, including a key to switch the trigger.
Taiwanese lawmakers also hit out at the navy over the incident, and some demanded Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan step down to take responsibility.