Three Gorges Probe

Magazine highlights terrorist danger to the dam

Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan

November 27, 2003

Security officials are taking steps to counter the possibility of a terrorist attack on the Three Gorges dam involving the large boats that are now able to navigate that section of the Yangtze, a new Shanghai-based news weekly says.


"The Three Gorges dam is a likely target both for hostile foreign forces and domestic terrorists," Oriental Outlook (Liaowang dongfang) said in a story that ran in its second issue, dated Nov. 24. Concerns have been raised in the past about the potential for a terrorist attack on the dam launched either by Taiwan or by Muslim separatists from Xinjiang in northwest China.

The new magazine, jointly owned by the official Xinhua news agency and the China Huayuan Group, one of Shanghai’s largest companies, raised the spectre of terrorists hijacking "a 1,000-tonne or even 10,000-tonne ship," packing it with explosives and ramming it into the dam in a suicide attack.

"Such an event would not only have disastrous consequences for the dam itself, but also a tremendous impact on the country, economically, politically and environmentally," the magazine said.

Since the Three Gorges reservoir was filled to the 135-metre level in June and raised an additional four metres in October, the deeper, wider, slower-moving river upstream of the dam can now accommodate much larger vessels than before.

"Most of the barges and tugboats on the Yangtze were in the 200- to 300-tonne range before the reservoir was filled," the news weekly said. "Now, many are 10 times as big because of the wider and smoother river. Once the reservoir water level reaches 175 metres in 2009, it is expected that 10,000-tonne vessels will be able to reach Chongqing, 650 kilometres upstream of the dam."

Facilitating navigation by large boats as far up the Yangtze as Chongqing has long been touted as a main benefit of the Three Gorges dam. Access to the reservoir is gradually being tightened, with restrictions imposed on smaller boats. Starting in January, vessels with a capacity of less than 100 tonnes will be barred from the ship lock, which currently is the only way for boats to get around the dam, while those of less than 200 tonnes will not be able to use the lock as of 2005.

But in a jittery post-9/11 world, the same big boats that are being promoted as symbols of a modernized Yangtze River are also giving cause for concern. As a result, the water police division of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau has worked out a strategy to counter a potential terrorist attack on the dam involving a boat, Oriental Outlook said.

The proposals, which remain on paper at this point, include laying steel cables or nylon nets on the riverbed at Fengjie, 160 km upstream of the dam, as well as others directly in front of the dam on the upstream side. These could be raised to block the passage of a suspicious vessel and prevent it from reaching the dam, the magazine said.

Other ideas are said to include building a 3,000-tonne vessel that would be specially equipped to deal with a terrorist threat and that could operate in conjunction with high-speed hovercrafts to intercept a dangerous boat.

In addition, all vessels would have to register before entering the Three Gorges reservoir, and a surveillance system would be introduced to monitor their journey.

With the reservoir now filled to 139 metres, ensuring the safety of the big dam has become a pressing matter, the news weekly said. But, it added, during a recent on-the-spot investigation into security issues in Wanzhou, Fengjie and Wushan, it found worrying evidence of a lack of preparedness.

For starters, the magazine said, water police are in short supply. The 100-strong Wanzhou water-police division is responsible for patrolling 114 kilometres of the Yangtze, as well as the more than 50 ports in that section of the river. By law, two police officers are supposed to ride on every passenger boat that originates from Wanzhou, but usually only one officer is available to accompany a large boat, and none at all for smaller boats.

Law enforcement on the river is also made difficult because the various regions all have their own regulations governing their section of the Yangtze. This regulatory confusion creates loopholes for criminal activity, Oriental Outlook said.


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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