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Taiwan's Navy Accidentally Fires Missile Toward China, Hits A Fishing Boat

Taiwan's Navy Chief of Staff Mei Chia-shu discusses the inadvertent launching of a missile during a news  conference in Taipei Friday.
Taiwan Ministry of National Defense
Taiwan's Navy Chief of Staff Mei Chia-shu discusses the inadvertent launching of a missile during a news conference in Taipei Friday.

A fishing boat captain is dead and China is asking for a "responsible explanation," after an anti-ship missile was launched toward China from a Taiwanese Navy vessel Friday. Navy officials are apologizing for what they call an accident – a mistake made during a simulation drill.

The incident occurred Friday morning, when a 500-ton corvette that was sitting in the Zuoying Military Harbor launched a supersonic missile that streaked nearly 40 nautical miles before hitting a Taiwanese boat that had been trawling for shrimp.

The fishing boat was northwest of the warship — meaning that the missile that was sent speeding toward it this morning was also heading in the direction of mainland China.

The missile flew for more than 2 minutes before hitting the boat. At a briefing today, officers from Taiwan's navy said they want to figure out why its self-destruct mechanism wasn't used. Instead of the missile being destroyed, an S-70C helicopter was sent to follow its flight path.

From the Taipei Times comes this description of what happened when the missile struck:

"Fishing boat captain Huang Wen-chung was killed when the supersonic Hsiung Feng III missile penetrated the stern of the vessel. The missile did not explode on impact and sank into the water about 40 nautical miles (74.1km) from its launch site at Zuoying Military Harbor in Kaohsiung.

"The captain's son, Huang Ming-chuan, as well as a Vietnamese crew member and a Filipino crew member, sustained minor injuries and were treated at a local hospital."

Navy officials say the missile was designed to explode on impact with a warship's metal hull — and that the fishing boat's lighter materials likely kept the missile from exploding.

Saying that the incident could have a "severe impact" on relations between China and Taiwan, the Chinese mainland's Taiwan affairs chief, Zhang Zhijun, said, "the Taiwan side should offer a responsible explanation of the matter."

Discussing the situation today, Taiwan's Navy Chief of Staff Mei Chia-shu said the navy didn't inform Chinese authorities about the launch because "it does not have contacts with the other side of the Taiwan Strait," according to the Focus Taiwan news agency, which adds, "The navy instead reported the incident to the higher authorities in Taiwan responsible for national security."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.