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Minister apologizes for controversy over Navy blunder in drill

ROC Central News Agency

2012/08/08 15:51:41

Taipei, Aug. 8 (CNA) Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu apologized Wednesday for the controversy that arose after a Navy fleet was found to have gone off course during a military exercise in late July, saying an investigative report on the case will be completed soon.

Kao reiterated that the case simply involved a disciplinary problem and denied that the handling of the incident -- in which Rear Adm. Chang Feng-chiang did not have his fleet remain in a designated area from eastern to southern Taiwan during the exercise -- was tied to external factors.

Kao was responding to speculation that Chang was given a major demerit and removed from his post as commander of the 168th fleet because his action went against the spirit of President Ma Ying-jeou's East China Sea Peace Initiative.

On Aug. 5, Ma proposed the initiative, which called for the use of peaceful means to address the territorial dispute over the Tiaoyutai Islands.

"I did not know (about the initiative) before the president announced it," Kao said at a news conference.

The minister also rejected speculation that Chang was disciplined under pressure from Japan.

It was reported that Chang's fleet sailed out of the planned area of the military exercises and headed toward the Japanese island of Yonaguni, about 100 kilometers east of Taiwan, raising an alert in Japan.

The Ministry of National Defense has formed a task force to look into the case, Kao said, and an investigative report will be finished Thursday.

Disciplinary action will be taken in proportion to the offense, Kao said, adding that the Navy will again review action already taken against officials involved in the blunder, including those in the fleet and at the ground command center.

It has been found that Navy officials at the ground command center did not discover the blunder in time and did not instruct Chang's fleet to return to the designated area, Naval Inspector-General Chou Mei-wu said.

It was important for the fleet to remain in the designated area during the July 25-26 drill to test the country's warfare capabilities, Chou said.

Chou also confirmed that Japan sent P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft to hover over the fleet while it sailed in waters near Yonaguni Island.

The purpose of the drill was to identify problems and where improvement was needed, Kao said, adding that the Navy will now have to abide by a stricter standard when conducting military exercises.

Echoing Kao's remarks, Chou said he hoped similar mistakes would be avoided in other drills this year.

(By Elaine Hou)

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