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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
HK press seeks answers to sub accident
Chinese TV has reported official condolences to the crew's families

Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong have examined the accident which led to the death of the entire crew of a Chinese submarine off the country's north-eastern coast.

The absence of further official details from the Chinese authorities about the precise nature of the "mechanical problems" apparently suffered by the submarine has not prevented the press from offering competing explanations or beginning to draw conclusions about the accident.

Sing Tao Jih Pao states that news of the accident was circulating on military websites and university forums three days before it was announced by China's official state media.

Observers noted that the public announcement of the accident on Friday was highly unusual due to Beijing's traditional sensitivity over military matters.

It is time to pension off these submarines
Hsiang Kang Shang Pao analyst

The paper says that senior military officials, including the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong, had gone to the submarine's base at Lushun, Dalian City, to assess the situation in person.

"Sources also say that on the day of the accident Submarine Number 361 was undertaking extremely dangerous antisubmarine training," the paper reports.

"The relevant departments established after preliminary investigation that the accident had been caused by a human error, whereby the submarine's diving plane went out of control and the submarine sank nose-down, until it became stranded.

"The 70 officers and men on board were suffocated by the lack of oxygen."

Ta Kung Pao quotes an academic at China's National Defence University, Su Yusheng, as saying that the submarine had been on a long-distance navigation training mission when the accident occurred. The vessel had been sailing south and "apparently, she had left the shore only a short while before."

Su describes the loss of the crew as a "deep and tragic lesson for the Chinese navy" and urges it to draw the appropriate conclusions from the incident by looking again at the submarine's design and equipment.

Call for naval modernisation

Other commentators pick up the same theme, examining the wider context of the accident, which is among the worst in China's recent naval history.

An article in Wen Wei Po notes that the accident occurred in relatively shallow water and had also exposed the low level of the Chinese navy's underwater salvage capabilities.

Writing in Hsiang Kang Shang Pao, military analyst Tien Ping agrees. He says that Chinese submariners have improved their escape training in recent years.

"At least some of the crew ought to have survived, unless the unexpected accident was beyond control", he writes.

Tien notes that the exact cause will only be determined when the vessel's navigation data recorder is recovered. The equipment, he says, was developed for Chinese submarines two years ago.

But he concludes that because the Ming-class vessel was of an obsolescent design "after decades of service, it is time to pension off these submarines".

"This accident has shown that our navy's existing equipment is far from being able to meet the needs of defending our sea frontiers.

"We must replace the older generations of equipment with new ones and we must do so at a faster pace," he writes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
China sub deaths baffle experts
03 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Dozens die on Chinese sub
02 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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