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Taiwan’s space agency offers free satellite images

Taiwan’s national space program yesterday offered its satellite images of the damage caused by the powerful tsunamis that ravaged Asia at the weekend to affected countries and aid groups for free.

The National Space Program Office (NSPO) normally charges 3,000 euros (US$4,080) for each photograph covering an area of 600km2, the office said.

The images would be provided free of charge to affected countries and had been posted on the NSPO’s Web site, program head Lance Wu, said.

The agency’s images of badly hit Phuket island in Thailand and Indonesia’s Banda Aceh were probably among the first taken of the huge waves that killed thousands of people on Sunday, it said. Some had been immediately sent to foreign ministries and research centers in countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic contact.

“The problem is that all those countries do not maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan,” Wu said. “We are not sure which countries and which responsible units would need these satellite images,” he said, while explaining the decision to post the pictures on the www.nspo.org.tw Web site.

This handout photo from the National Space Program taken by the FORMOSAT-2 satellite shows the Thai coastline over Phuket where a massive tsunami hit on Dec. 26. The government yesterday pledged to offer free photos taken from its satellites over Southeast Asia to help with the relief effort. The Taiwan’s FORMOSAT-2 satellite would continue taking images for another week of seriously damaged areas, including the west coast of Thailand, Sumatra of Indonesia, the east coast of India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring and detecting systems are among the most advanced in the world and are capable of detecting tsunamis, Vice Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications Oliver Yu said yesterday.

Yu said that although there are not any regulations or laws in place in Taiwan on responding to tsunamis, the Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and harbor bureaus around the country have standard operational policies and measures against natural disasters.

It is believed that the earthquake detecting systems installed around the island are capable of monitoring and reporting tsunamis so that relevant agencies can issue alarms in time to prevent major damage, Yu said.