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Rescuers make tourist safety a priority in S China Sea

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)

08:19, July 26, 2013

The Guangzhou-based rescue ship Nanhaijiu 209 prepares to head into the South China Sea.(Wang Jing / China Daily)

With more Chinese people visiting the tropical islands of the South China Sea, the sea's rescue authority is paying more attention to tourists' safety.

"We have designated a ship near the Xisha Islands to ensure the safety of tourists heading there," Zhu Weiqiao, deputy Party chief of the Nanhai Rescue Bureau under the Ministry of Transport, told China Daily.

Nanhaijiu 115 is currently deployed near Yong-xing Island, one of the Xisha Islands, to deal with accidents involving tourists, he said.

The bureau, affiliated with the Ministry of Transport, is one of China's professional authorities that deal with marine accidents. It is mainly responsible for rescue operations on boats, planes and other facilities, both Chinese and foreign, on the South China Sea.

The bureau, created in June 2003, said it had rescued 794 ships and boats, including 114 owned by foreign countries; saved 12,883 people; and prevented loss of property worth 27 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) as of last Friday.

Fishermen have been the bureau's major rescue targets in the past 10 years. By the end of June, the bureau rescued 5,834 fishermen, accounting for 45.5 percent of the total number saved, according to Liang Lijian, deputy director of the bureau's relief department.

However, in recent years more and more people have ventured into the sea, and ensuring their safety has become a new priority for the bureau, Zhu said.

"With the establishment of Sansha city, tourism in the South China Sea will develop quickly," he said. "So we have allocated more forces especially for ensuring the safety of tourists."

Sansha city was officially established in July 2012 to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea.

In June, the Nanhai Rescue Bureau signed an agreement with Hainan Strait Shipping Co, based in Haikou, capital of Hainan province, to provide security support for the company's cruise ship, Coconut Princess.

In April this year, Coconut Princess began its first four-day voyage from Haikou, carrying hundreds of passengers to the Xisha Islands. The voyage has been carried out on a regular basis since then, and it is the only official route by which tourists can access the islands.

Pei Jiwen, a rescuer at the Nanhai Rescue Bureau, said he and his colleagues are rescuing more people who got into trouble during trips in the South China Sea.

"We found some of them were unprepared for the trip," he said. "Before starting a journey, the tourists should make sure the condition of their boat is good enough."

Some accidents have even caught nationwide attention.

In January, 23 tourists heading for the Xisha Islands were stranded in the waters of Yagong Island, one of the Xisha Islands, after the fishing boat that they leased failed to function normally because of a strong wind. The tourists were in danger for four days before they were rescued by the Nanhai Rescue Bureau and local authorities.

"We will continue to make the priority of our work saving people's lives, including those of tourists," the rescue bureau's Zhu said.

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