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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Sackings after China's sub disaster
Ming class submarine (picture courtesy www.sinodefence.com)
The cause of the submariners' deaths may never be known
China has replaced the commander of its navy and its top naval commissar in a shake-up possibly linked to the recent loss of a submarine crew in the Yellow Sea.

It sacked or demoted a further 10 officers, including the commander and the top commissar of the North Sea Fleet, saying that "improper operations" had led to the disaster aboard the fleet's Submarine 361, which was reported last month.

The shake-up was announced in a series of brief dispatches by the state news agency Xinhua, which gave no commentary other than that the latter 10 officers had been punished for their role in the disaster.

Correspondents say the public reprimand to the military is unprecedented, as has been the Communist Government's handling to date of one of the country's worst known military disasters.

Soon after news of the submarine's loss broke, Chinese President Hu Jintao took the rare step of publicly consoling the families of the dead at an emotional meeting broadcast on state TV.

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Beijing says that diplomats there feel that the submarine episode may herald greater openness over the dealings of China's notoriously secretive armed forces.

Xinhua gave no explanation for the dismissal of naval commander Shi Yunsheng and political commissar Yang Huaiqing, who were replaced by Zhang Dingfa and Hu Yanlin respectively.

Submarine accident
Ming class submarine

But its despatch was quickly followed by another announcing punitive action against North Sea Fleet officers over Submarine 361's loss, which was first reported on 2 May and dated as happening "several days" before.

"It has been verified that improper operations caused the accident involving the navy's Submarine 361," the agency said.

"Recently the Central Military Commission decided to seriously deal with the relevant personnel accountable..."

Dismissed or demoted

Ding Yiping, the commander of the North Sea Fleet and also a deputy commander of the Jinan Military Region, was given a punishment of administrative demotion along with Chen Xianfeng, the fleet's political commissar.

Eight other "relevant personnel" were punished by either "administrative dismissal or demotion", the agency reported.

Hong Kong and Western media have speculated that the entire crew aboard the ageing Ming class vessel suffocated after a crew member mistook an exhaust valve for an intake valve or as the result of a gas leak.

The vessel was recovered and towed back to port, the authorities announced at the time, and it apparently bore no traces of an explosion or flooding.

China sub victims 'suffocated'
05 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
HK press seeks answers to sub accident
03 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
The Ming: China's 'obsolete sub'
02 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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