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China’s tech gap exposed in MH370 search mission

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: China has the ability to detect signals sent from deep in the sea, but the month-long hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has exposed technological drawbacks in China's maritime search and rescue outfit, experts said.

Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 picked up electronic pulsing signals in the Indian Ocean on April 4 and again on April 5. But some foreign experts are sceptical about whether China's equipment is advanced enough to obtain signals from as deep as 4,500m under the sea.

The ship is equipped with maritime detection equipment, including one black box sonar detector and two underwater robots, said Wang Liangyu, head of maritime survey at the Donghai Navigation Safety Administration under the Transport Ministry.

"All of them were imported," he said. "The black box detector, which was made by the same company that produces black boxes, has a maximum detection range of 5,000m."

The adoption of such advanced technologies has enabled China to catch "ping" signals from the black boxes, he told Shanghai newspaper Jiefang Daily.

However, searchers need more time to analyse and verify the signals to see whether they are consistent with the black boxes – the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

Many Chinese applauded Haixun 01's findings, but say China still lags behind other nations when it comes to maritime search and rescue equipment.

"I'm proud that it was our ship that first detected the (suspected) signals," said an Internet user who goes under the name biedong1925, "but it is a pity that none of the equipment used was made in China".

Some experts said more resources and investment should be allocated to China's maritime search and rescue outfit development.

"There are a lot of things that China should do to upgrade its equipment used in maritime search and rescue operations," said Cui Yiliang, an expert on ships and naval armament in Beijing.

"We must speed up the research and development of autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs," he said.

"High-tech underwater vehicles such as the Bluefin-21 play an irreplaceable role in deep-sea detection and retrieval operations, but I haven't read any reports about similar equipment developed in China."

The Australian navy vessel Ocean Shield is carrying a Bluefin-21 in its current search and will use the sub to scan for wreckage once the black box is located.

AUV played a critical role in locating a lost Air France jet in 2011, two years after it crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States used an AUV equipped with side-scan sonar to locate the aircraft about 3,900m underwater.

In China, the AUV is still in its infancy and far from being operational, Cui said.

In November, the Qianlong-1 unmanned autonomous underwater vehicle completed its first application test in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Co-developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Harbin Engineering University, it can travel to a depth of 6,000m, and is tasked to explore the seabed and collect hydrological data. The vehicle is on a trial run and marks the first time a Chinese AUV has been used for a scientific expedition, according to the academy.

Meanwhile, a military observer said the Chinese navy should improve its use of sea-based air platforms in maritime search and rescue operations.

The PLA navy's missile destroyer Haikou, replenishment ship Qiandaohu, and amphibian landing craft Kunlunshan and Jinggangshan are taking part in the search mission led by Australia in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.

However, the fleet "apparently failed to bring enough helicopters", said the observer in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, who declined to be named.

The two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers of the US Navy that had participated in the early search for MH370, the USS Pinckney and USS Kidd, each carried two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, which flew sorties from dawn to dusk.

"Each Arleigh Burke-class destroyer can carry up to four helicopters, which means it has a strong capability to search on the sea," the observer said, adding Chinese destroyers and frigates can carry only one helicopter.

The amphibian landing craft Kunlunshan and Jinggangshan can each embark up to four helicopters, he said.

"But judging from news reports, they didn't bring that number of helicopters. The only guess I can make is that our navy still needs to learn from the US Navy in the use of sea-based air platforms."

Experts: Do more for servicemen with mental health issues

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

MORE can be done to monitor and support national servicemen with mental health issues, according to two experts who used to work with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

These include fighting the stigma attached to such illnesses, raising awareness about mental health and having more in-camp psychiatrists.

Earlier this week, State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid delivered his findings on the death of Private Ganesh Pillay Magindren, who was found at the foot of his Sengkang condominium last July.

The 23-year-old had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which distorts a person's thoughts and emotions, causing him to lose touch with reality.

The coroner pointed out several lapses such as how the medical officer at the unit where Pte Ganesh was posted had not been informed of his condition.

In response to queries, Mindef pointed to a previous report on how it screens all servicemen before enlistment and assigns them a Physical Employment Status grade. Those with medical conditions, including mental health ones, may be assigned a lower grade.

The grades range from A – fit for all combat vocations – to F, exemption from national service.

Pte Ganesh, who enlisted in October 2012, was given the E9L9 grade, the second lowest because of his illness. He became an administrative assistant in the army.

Mindef highlighted how it has a comprehensive system to track its soldiers' well-being.

Interviews are conducted by commanders every few months to find out how full-time national servicemen are adjusting. Some commanders are taught counselling skills.

Soldiers with issues may then be referred to medical officers, counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists in the SAF.

Dr Christopher Cheok, a former head of psychiatry at SAF, pointed out a "weak" link in the chain.

"There is a lack of awareness about mental health issues among junior commanders," said the senior consultant, calling for more training workshops to be held.

He urged the SAF to take a more "rehabilitative, rather than punitive" approach to discipline.

Dr Ang Yong Guan, SAF's head of psychiatry from 1986 to 2003, believes it should consider expanding its pool of psychiatrists.

He added that whether a person with mental illness should be exempted from serving should depend on how mild or severe their condition is, the likelihood of relapse if they were subjected to stress, their attitude towards National Service and their parents' attitudes. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

William fuels speculation of second royal baby

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 11:13 PM PDT

Dunedin (New Zealand) (AFP) - Royal watchers were scrutinising the duchess of Cambridge on her New Zealand tour Sunday, after husband Prince William appeared to hint a second baby is on the way.

Kate, however, looked to dampen the speculation by drinking wine and going on a jet boat ride, neither of which are recommended for pregnant women.

The royals' eight-month-old son Prince George, third in line to the British throne, has been the star of their New Zealand tour so far.

But William suggested during a walkabout in the North Island town of Cambridge there may soon be another royal baby to share the spotlight.

During a meeting with Cynthia Read, who knitted the merino wool shawl which was New Zealand's official gift when George was born, William said according to several reports: "You might have to make another one soon!"

Read, who emigrated to New Zealand from England eight years ago, was convinced the prince was serious.

"The way William said it was like he was dropping a hint, letting me in on a secret," she told reporters, adding the duchess said they were delighted with the first shawl "and George wore it a lot".

Kate was also seen to be sipping water during an evening state reception for the couple on Thursday, fuelling media speculation of a second pregnancy.

During a visit to a vineyard in the acclaimed wine-producing area of Queenstown on Sunday there was intense interest in whether Kate would indulge in a drop or two.

Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd chairwoman Lucie Lawrence, who escorted the duchess at Amisfield Winery, said she had "six or seven" tastes.

"She was drinking it. She really enjoyed drinking the Pinot Noir," Lawrence said.

William did not hold back and after a brief tour of the winery he remarked to co-owner John Darby: "We should probably stop the talking and start the drinking".

There was also no keeping Kate from accompanying William on a wild jetboat ride on the Shotover River, racing through shallow water at speeds of up to 85 kilometres per hour (53mph).

The couple flew to Queenstown from the southern city of Dunedin where they attended a Palm Sunday service at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral and a junior rugby match with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

William, who lost to his wife in a yacht race on Auckland harbour on Friday, exacted a measure of revenge on the rugby field when the team of eight-year-olds he helped coach beat Kate's side 30-20.


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