- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

BEIJING — An accident on a diesel-powered Chinese submarine killed the crew of 70 officers and sailors, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.The brief Chinese-language report said the accident occurred “recently” in Chinese waters east of the Neichangshan islands. The islands are in the Yellow Sea, between the northeastern province of Liaoning and North Korea.The submarine was on an exercise when the accident occurred, and “because of a mechanical malfunction, the 70 crew members on board died,” the Xinhua report said.Xinhua did not provide further details or say how the crew died.Quoting “navy sources,” the report said the vessel, with the hull number 361, had been towed into port. Military analysts said the number appeared to identify the submarine as a Ming-class vessel, often used for patrols and coastal defense.It was the first time China has announced a fatal submarine accident, said Bernard Cole, a professor at the United Nations National War College in Washington and a specialist on the Chinese navy.”There have been rumors going around about the loss of submarines, but this is the first fatal accident that I know of,” Mr. Cole said.Michael McGinty, an expert on the Chinese navy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies in London, said the accident probably happened while the submarine was on the surface. If the accident happened when the boat was underwater, it is less likely China could have recovered it, the former British submariner said.”For an accident to have been so catastrophic when the submarine was on the surface, I find it a very mysterious thing,” he said.He said the submarine’s batteries might have leaked acid that mixed with seawater, creating chlorine gas that killed the crew. Or the torpedoes could have leaked propellant that poisoned the crew, he said.The accident could have occurred as long ago as March, said Mr. Cole, a former U.S. Navy antisubmarine warfare officer.

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