Super Typhoon Jelawat Complicating Standoff Over Disputed Islands

Jelawat became a super typhoon on Sunday (U.S. time) and remained one as of Thursday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. Image via Weather.com

(Bloomberg) — Taiwan warned of floods and landslides as the second super typhoon in two weeks ripped through the East China Sea and headed for islands where Chinese and Japanese vessels are in a territorial standoff.

With gusts as fast as 115 knots (132 miles or 213 kilometers an hour), Super Typhoon Jelawat was 410 kilometers east-southeast of Kaohsiung at 11 p.m. yesterday, the Hong Kong Observatory reported. The storm is expected to move north at about 14 kilometers an hour toward the seas east of Taiwan.

Jelawat follows Sanba, which lashed southern Japan and South Korea earlier this month, grounding aircraft and disrupting electricity. Jelawat is forecast to travel northeast away from Taiwan from today and may cross islands claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan on a path toward the southern coast of Japan, according to the U.S Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

The Japanese Coast Guard declined to comment on the movement of ships around the islands situated northeast of Taiwan, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, according to a spokesman who cited “security reasons.” A three-way contest over the oil and gas-rich area erupted after Japan reached a deal to buy the islands from a private Japanese owner.

‘Catastrophic Damage’

More than 50 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 patrol vessels left waters surrounding the islands on Sept. 25 after Japanese ships fired water cannons at them, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration said in a statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry referred questions to the government fisheries agency when asked about bad weather plans for the Diaoyu Islands at a scheduled press briefing yesterday. An official with the Ministry of Agriculture couldn’t immediately comment and declined to be identified.

A super typhoon has winds of at least 185 kilometers per hour, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. The storm is a category 4, the second-strongest on the five-level Saffir- Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with winds between 209 and 251 kilometers per hour. A storm of that strength can cause “catastrophic damage” to homes, trees and power lines, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

-By Adela Lin and Tim Culpan. Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.