Miraculous ship “Free China” returns to Keelung after 57 years

The historic ship Free China goes on permanent display July 11 in Keelung.

Free China, a historic ship that sailed across the Pacific from Taiwan to San Francisco 57 years ago, went on display at the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung July 11.

“The original voyage was a reflection of humanity’s yearning for freedom,” ROC Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai said at the unveiling ceremony.

“It was a miraculous international event for the Cold War era (1945-1991),” she said, noting that the implementation of martial law at the time meant that no one could leave the country without government approval.

Following three years of negotiations with the ship’s previous owner, Free China was shipped back from Oakland, Calif., according to the Ministry of Culture. Over two months of repair work were needed before it could be put on view.

The vessel left Keelung Port April 4, 1955, manned by five young Taiwan sailors and Calvin E. Mehlert, former U.S. vice consul to Taiwan. The crew intended to participate in an international sailing competition after reaching the U.S., but because of a typhoon en route, they arrived too late, after 114 days. Free China, believed to have been built in 1890 in mainland China’s Fujian province, was the first traditional junk to make the trans-Pacific trip, the MOC noted.

Crew member Paul Chow, now in his 80s, said that as a sailor he did not want to sail only from Keelung in northern Taiwan to Kaohsiung in the south, but to be a free mariner and explore the world. The ceremony was also attended by the two other surviving sailors, Mehlert and Hu Loo-chi.

The dilapidated wooden boat will soon see its exterior restored to the best condition possible, according to National Taiwan Ocean University professor Laurence Lwo Lwun-syin. “This is a historical treasure that needs to be preserved and I am proud to be part of the restoration efforts,” he said.

Taiwan Today