For the first time, Taiwan conducted a day-long disaster response exercise in the disputed South China Sea in a bid to demonstrate its ability to conduct maritime surveillance and provide emergency assistance in the region.

Three aircraft and eight sea vessels took part in the drill on Tuesday, 29 November, in the waters surrounding Taiping Island in the Nansha Islands, also known as Spratly Island.

According to the Taiwanese Coast Guard Administration, the government wants to turn the disputed island into a humanitarian base in the South China Sea, Taiwan Today reported. The coast guard added that it was committed to forging deeper ties with its counterparts in neighbouring nations to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Territorial rights over the South China Sea have been a major cause of tensions in East and Southeast Asia for years, with China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan claiming different parts of the sea. The Spratly Island is also a disputed zone with both China and Taiwan claiming their maritime rights over it.

Some months ago, it was reported that China was building jet hangars on the disputed islets in order to militarise the region. However, there was no confirmation from China on the claims. Taiwan, on the other hand, aims to use the naturally-formed islets as a base to extend humanitarian aid supplies at times of maritime disasters.

As part of the disaster management exercise, the participating aircraft and vessels responded to a mock blaze aboard a foreign-flagged cargo ship sailing in the waters near Taiping Island. The drill focused on five key response actions: emergency notification and division of operational responsibilities; firefighting and rescue operations; supply replenishment and damage control; telemedicine and the dispatch of medical aircraft; and transferring the injured to Taiping Island and emergency medical evacuation to Taiwan proper, the news website reported.

South China Sea
Taiwan conducted a day-long disaster response exercise in the disputed Nansha or Spratly Island in the South China Sea on Tuesday, 29 November - File photoReuters