China Rescue Service and Salvage Bureau
The China Rescue Service (CRS) is distinct from the China Coast Guard. The CRS solely focuses on maritime rescues and salvaging after accidents or disasters at sea. Even though this is a civilian function fulfilled by the coastguards of other countries, the CRS was not folded into the coastguard along with other agencies and bureaus in the 2013 reform process that created the China Coast Guard. This could be because of the rather militarized purpose of the China Coast Guard versus the ostensibly humanitarian mission of the CRS. However, CRS vessels - including the Nan Hai Jiu 115 - have been accompanied by coastguard vessels in the past.
China is a great and ancient seafaring nation. It has a large seagoing fleet, with many more craft working on its inland waters - and its shipping industry continues to grow. China Rescue & Salvage, of the Ministry of Transport, is responsible in Chinese waters for the security of navigation, shipping and seamen - and it continues to adjust to changing needs.
The service was founded in 1951, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and it played a key part in China’s recovery, clearing channels and seaways. In 1959, while its salvage and clearance work continued, it was agreed that the organisation should place equal emphasis on rescue work, and by 1963 rescue stations had been established in Taijin, Yantai, Qingdao and Shanghai.In the succeeding decades the organisation was involved in many national key projects and in important rescue & salvage work. By 1980 it had set up eight rescue bases, in Qinhuangdao, Rongcheng, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Shantou, Beihai, Zhanjiang and Sanya; and the organisation continued to develop, learning from sometimes terrible experience, such as the loss of 280 people when the Dashun ferry caught fire and capsized in a typhoon in November 1999.
In 2003 it was decided that the conventional approach to rescue and salvage was no longer adequate to meet the requirements of rapidly developing maritime industries. China Rescue & Salvage began an ongoing process of reforms, separating its rescue and salvage functions and improving its resources, training, and response times. It now has three Rescue Bureaux, three Salvage Bureaux and four Flying Service units; and, in the true spirit of SAR, it has worked with international partners - on the provision of SAR helicopter training and of fast rescue craft, for example.
The results of the reforms begun in 2003 were immediate. In the 18 months from mid-2003 to the end of 2004, 2769 people were rescued and 171 vessels saved: increases year-on year of 71% and 350% respectively. Notable milestones passed. The organisation’s first helicopter rescue was of a badly injured fisherman 70 miles east of the Yangtze, on 24 July 2003. On 16 November 2004 the ferry Liaohai caught fire off Dalian with 340 people aboard: many rescue vessels of the Beihai Rescue Bureau responded and the Liaohai was salved without loss of life - a very different outcome from the Dashun disaster five years before. And in a 50 day period of bitter and stormy weather in the winter of 2005 the Rescue Bureaux, working with the maritime Flying Service, made 42 sorties, using a total of 28 rescue vessels and 14 helicopters, to save 246 lives.
China Rescue and Salvage, says the service’s Director General, Mr. Zhenliang Wang, adopts a triple ‘three-in-one’ approach:“We comprise three services our rescue service, our salvage service and our flying service. We shoulder three responsibilities - lifesaving, environmental protection and property recovery. And we fulfil three functions - fast rescue in the air, rapid response on the ocean’s surface, and diving rescue and salvage under the water. “This triple three-in-one capability enables China Rescue and Salvage to provide an effective response to all kinds of emergencies and to manage accidents at sea efficiently. It meets the needs of maintaining sea safety and assisting emergency response to all accidents on Chinese waters.”
In the wake of reform of the rescue & salvage institution itself, the maritime rescue staff of the Ministry of Transport have put in place a dynamic standby duty system and have developed joint air / sea rescue procedures. Their work has extended from the sea to inland waters, and China Rescue and Salvage has become an indispensable part of China’s emergency response mechanism. By the end of May 2011, the service had saved 57,145 people in distress often in extremely adverse weather conditions; salvaged 4,114 distressed vessels; and refloated 1,744 sunken ships. The total value of property salved since 2002 has reached RMB 70.08 billion.
Having set up, in all, 21 rescue bases, 59 aircraft landing points, 10 flying bases and 18 professional Emergency Response Rescue Teams equipped with nearly 200 rescue and salvage vessels and 21 rescue aircraft, China Rescue and Salvage now covers the Chinese coastline from the mouth of the Yalujiang River in the north to Xisha Waters in the south. The service presently has some ten thousand employees - 80% of whom are technicians, divers and crew members.
According to a recruitment bulletin posted online by the Ministry of Transport, the South China Sea Rescue Bureau now has eight 'bases' to operate from, in Shantou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang, Beihai, Haikou, Sanya, and Sansha. China established the Nansha Maritime Rescue Center on Fiery Cross in January 2019, according to the South China Morning Post and Xinhua. The new maritime rescue center is part of the South China Sea Rescue Bureau under the Ministry of Transport.
China's maritime rescue service and ships have received high attention in state media, perhaps because it reinforces the official narrative that China has benign intentions in its creation of artificial islands and other infrastructure in the South China Sea where its expansive claims are disputed by neighboring nations.
The big rescue tug Nan Hai Jiu 101, operated by the China Rescue and Salvage Bureau (CRS), travelled to Singapore specifically to attend ITS 2008. The 4,091 gt tug was completed in September and reflects the strenuous efforts being made by the Chinese government to dramatically improve rescue, salvage and counter-pollution services in coastal and inshore waters and at sea. At present CRS had almost 10,000 employees, 180 vessels of various types, one fixed wing aircraft and ten helicopters.
Built in China by the Guangzhou Huangpu Shipbuilding Company of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, Nan Hai Jiu 101 has an overall length of 109.70m, a breadth of 16.20m and a draft of 6m. The tug complies with the rules of the China Classification Society and meets the requirements of Ice Class 2. A relatively traditional hull design incorporates a bulbous bow, and a long high forecastle, incorporating a helicopter landing pad and refuelling facilities. A modern style bridge is located amidships and surmounted by a high level fire-fighting platform mounting four powerful remotely controlled monitors.
Nan Hai Jiu 101 is the fastest rescue tug in China with an impressive bollard pull and the proven ability to work in extreme weather conditions. Two Wartsila 6L46F 4SA 6 main engines producing a total of 19,000bhp are coupled to twin controllable pitch propellers turning in fixed nozzles. The result is a maximum speed of 22 knots and a bollard pull of approximately 200 tons. Manoeuvrability is assured with ‘flap’ rudders and transverse thrusters fore and aft. Fuel capacity onboard gives the tug an endurance of 10,000 nautical miles.
The China Rescue Service received a huge propaganda boost in the form of a big-budget action movie entitled 'The Rescue,' released in January 2020. The film prominently features equipment and platforms used by the China Rescue Service, including ships of the same class as the Nan Hai Jiu 115. It was directed by Dante Lam, the same director of the 2018 action movie 'Operation Red Sea,' which showcased actual ships and equipment in use by the People's Liberation Army Navy.
The CRS is not part of the China Coast Guard (CCG) and solely focuses on maritime rescue or salvaging after accidents at sea involving other ships or civilians. It has been increasingly active in disputed waters, where Chinese fishermen and maritime militia are encouraged to operate to assert China’s sweeping maritime claims. According to Chinese state media, since the establishment of the rescue center on Fiery Cross, four rescue missions have been completed.
Most recently, the CRS rescued the crew of a fishing boat grounded in the Paracel Islands on May 21, Chinese state media reported. The rescue took place after China declared its annual summer fishing moratorium north of the 12th parallel in the South China Sea on May 1 – a unilateral ban that has drawn protests from Vietnam and the Philippines over China’s assertion that it has jurisdiction over the area. The Paracels falls within the zone covered by the moratorium but it wasn’t clear from the report whether the boat in question was on a fishing expedition.
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