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Taiwan admits accidental missile launch

July 1, 2016

A Taiwanese navy patrol boat has accidentally fired a "carrier killing" anti-ship missile and destroyed a Taiwanese fishing boat. At least one killed and three injured due to possible "human error" the navy said.

Taiwan Militär Übungen
Taiwan and China's navy patrol regularly on their respective sides of the Taiwan StraitImage: REUTERS

The domestically developed Hsiung-feng III (Brave Wind III) missile was accidentally launched at 8:10 a.m. (0010 UTC) Friday and flew about 75 kilometers (47 miles) before striking a fishing boat, Taiwan's defense ministry said.

The skipper on the "Hsian Li Sheng," a 60-ton trawler based in the southern Kaohsiuing city, was killed and three other crew on board, including a Vietnamese and a Filipino, were injured in the explosion.

"An initial investigation showed that the incident has caused the death of the skipper," defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told reporters. "We apologize to the family of the skipper and would like to convey our condolences to them."

The navy said it was not immediately clear how the missile had come to be launched, but suggested it could have been due to human error.

"Our initial investigation found that the operation was not done in accordance with normal procedure," Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu told reporters, adding that an investigation had begun.

Both Beijing and Taipei respect the virtual middle line in the Taiwan Strait, and the two sides do not allow their planes or ships to cross the line.

The anti-ship missile was launched from the 500-ton patrol boat Chinchiang that was undergoing an inspection inside Zuoying military base in southern Kaohsiung City.

Poor timing for deadly accident

Aside from the loss of life, the incident risked further inflaming tensions with neighboring China. Ties between Taiwan and China have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen of the China-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected in January.

Taiwan Hsiung Feng III Rakete
The missile was fired during a drill from a 500-ton missile ship docked at a naval base in the southern city of Tsoying and flew in the direction of ChinaImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Yeh

The deadly mishap coincided with Beijing's celebrations of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party. Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for peaceful development of relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which handles China policy, declined to say whether the incident had been reported to Beijing.

China still insists that self-ruling Taiwan is part of its territory, even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and has not ruled out a forcible reunification.

Taiwan's defense ministry claims there are 1,500 Chinese missiles aimed at the island. China launched some of the missiles into waters off Taiwan in 1995 and 1996 in an attempt to deter voters in the island's first democratic presidential elections

jar/msh (AFP, AP)