Battle of the Paracel Islands

The Battle of the Paracel Islands was a military engagement between the naval forces of China and South Vietnam in the Paracel Islands on January 19, 1974. The battle was an attempt by the South Vietnamese navy to expel the Chinese navy from the vicinity.

As a result of the battle, the PRC established de facto control over the Paracels.

Battle of the Paracel Islands
Battle of the Paracel Islands
DateJanuary 19–20, 1974
Result Chinese victory
China establishes control over the Paracels.
 China  South Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
Zhang Yuanpei (张元培)
Wei Mingsen (魏鸣森)
Colonel Hà Văn Ngạc
4 minesweepers
2 submarine chasers[1]
Unknown number of marines
Unknown number of militia
3 frigates
1 corvette
1 commando platoon
1 demolition team
1 militia platoon
Casualties and losses
18 killed
67 wounded
4 minesweepers damaged
53 killed
16 wounded
48 captured
1 corvette sunk
3 frigates damaged[2]


The Paracel Islands, called Xisha Islands (西沙群岛; Xīshā Qúndǎo) in Chinese and Hoang Sa Islands (Quần Đảo Hoàng Sa) in Vietnamese, lie in the South China Sea approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the PRC and Vietnam (200 nautical miles). With no native population, the archipelago’s ownership has been in dispute since the early 20th century.

China first asserted sovereignty in the modern sense to the South China Sea’s islands when it formally objected to France’s efforts to incorporate them into French Indochina during the Sino-French War (1884–1885). Initially, France recognized Qing China's sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, in exchange for Chinese recognition of Vietnam as a French territory. Chinese maps since then have consistently shown China’s claims, first as a solid and then as a dashed line. In 1932, one year after the Japanese Empire invaded northeast China, France formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands; China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France bolstered their claim and seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina. They built several weather stations on them, but they did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen found there. In 1938 Japan took the islands from France, garrisoned them, and built a submarine base at Itu Aba (now Taiping / 太平) Island. In 1941, the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly Islands part of Taiwan, then under its rule.

In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province. In 1946 it established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing / 永兴) Island in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. France promptly protested. The French tried but failed to dislodge Chinese nationalist troops from Yongxing Island (the only habitable island in the Paracels), but were able to establish a small camp on Pattle (now Shanhu / 珊瑚) Island in the southwestern part of the archipelago.

In 1950, after the Chinese nationalists were driven from Hainan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they withdrew their garrisons in both the Paracels and Spratlys to Taiwan. In 1954 France ceased to be a factor when it accepted the independence of both South and North Vietnam and withdrew from Indochina.

In 1956 North Vietnam formally accepted that the Paracel and Spratly islands were historically Chinese. About the same time, the PLA reestablished a Chinese garrison on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, while the Republic of China (Taipei) stationed troops on Taiping Island in the Spratlys. That same year, however, South Vietnam reopened the abandoned French camp on Shanhu Island and announced it had annexed the Paracel archipelago as well as the Spratlys. To focus on its war with the North, South Vietnam by 1966 had reduced its presence on the Paracels to only a single weather observation garrison on Shanhu Island. The PLA made no attempt to remove this force.[3]


On January 16, 1974, six South Vietnamese Army officers and an American observer on the frigate Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16) were sent to the Paracels on an inspection tour. They discovered two Chinese “armored fishing trawlers” laying off Drummond Island to support a detachment of PLA troops who had occupied the island. Chinese soldiers were also observed around a bunker on nearby Duncan Island, with a landing ship moored on the beach and two additional Kronstadt-class submarine chasers in the vicinity. This was promptly reported to Saigon,[4][5] and several naval vessels were sent to confront the Chinese ships in the area. The South Vietnamese Navy frigate signaled the Chinese squadron to withdraw, and in return received the same demand. The rival forces shadowed each other overnight, but did not engage.

On January 17, about 30 South Vietnamese commandos waded ashore unopposed on Robert Island and removed the Chinese flag they found flying. Later, both sides received reinforcements. The frigate Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-4) joined the Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), while two PLA Navy minesweepers (#274 and #271) joined the Chinese.

On January 18, the frigate Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5) arrived carrying the commander of the South Vietnamese fleet, Colonel Hà Văn Ngạc. The corvette Nhật Tảo (HQ-10) also reached the islands, moving cautiously because it had only one functioning engine at the time.

Balance of forces

These four warships from the South Vietnam Navy would participate in the battle: the frigates, Trần Bình Trọng,[1] Lý Thường Kiệt,[2] and Trần Khánh Dư,[3] and the corvette Nhật Tảo.[4] A platoon of South Vietnamese naval commandos, an underwater demolition team, and a regular ARVN platoon were by now stationed on the islands.

China also had four warships present: the PLA Navy minesweepers 271, 274, 389 and 396. These were old and small warships with an average length of 49 meters (161 ft) and width of 6 meters (20 ft), and they had not been well-maintained. However, they were reinforced by two Type 037 submarine chasers (281 and 282) by the end of the battle. In addition, two PLA marine battalions and an unknown number of irregular militia had been landed on the islands.

Although four ships were engaged on each side, the total displacements and weapons of the South Vietnamese ships were superior. The supporting and reinforcement forces of the PLA Navy did not take part in the battle.

Military engagement

In the early morning of January 19, 1974, South Vietnamese soldiers from Trần Bình Trọng landed on Duncan Island and came under fire from Chinese troops. Three South Vietnamese soldiers were killed and more were wounded. Finding themselves outnumbered, the South Vietnamese ground forces withdrew by landing craft, but their small fleet drew close to the Chinese warships in a tense standoff.

At 10:24 a.m., the South Vietnamese warships Lý Thường Kiệt and Nhật Tảo opened fire on the Chinese warships. Trần Bình Trọng and Trần Khánh Dư then joined in. The sea battle lasted about 40 minutes, with vessels on both sides taking damage. The smaller Chinese warships managed to maneuver into the blind spots of the main cannons on the South Vietnamese warships and damaged all four South Vietnamese ships, especially Nhật Tảo, which could not retreat because her last working engine was disabled. The crew was ordered to abandon ship, but her captain, Lieutenant Commander Ngụy Văn Thà, remained on board and went down with his ship. Lý Thường Kiệt, severely damaged by friendly fire from Trần Bình Trọng, was forced to retreat westwards. Trần Khánh Dư and Trần Bình Trọng soon joined in the retreat.

The next day, Chinese aircraft from Hainan bombed the three islands, and an amphibious landing was made. The outnumbered South Vietnamese marine garrison on the islands was forced to surrender, and the damaged navy ships retreated to Đà Nẵng.

During the battle, the South Vietnamese fleet detected two more Chinese warships rushing to the area. China later acknowledged these were the Hainan-class submarine chasers 281 and 282. Despite South Vietnamese reports that at least one of their ships had been struck by a missile, the Chinese insisted what the South Vietnamese saw were rocket-propelled grenades fired by the crew of #389 and that no missile-capable ships were present, and the Chinese ships closed in because they had no missiles. The South Vietnamese fleet also received warnings that U.S. Navy radar had detected additional Chinese guided missile frigates and aircraft on their way from Hainan.

South Vietnam requested assistance from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, but the request was denied.[6][7]


Letter from South Vietnam's General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces, dated 02-18-74, concerning the Battle of the Paracel Islands

Following the battle, China gained control over all of the Paracel Islands. South Vietnam protested to the United Nations, but China, having veto power on the UN Security Council, blocked any efforts to bring it up.[8] The remote islands had little value militarily, but diplomatically the projection of power was beneficial to China.[9][10]

South Vietnamese casualties

The South Vietnamese reported that the warship Nhật Tảo was sunk and Lý Thường Kiệt heavily damaged, while Trần Khánh Dư and Trần Bình Trọng were both slightly damaged. 53 South Vietnamese soldiers, including Captain Ngụy Văn Thà of Nhật Tảo, were killed, and 16 were wounded. On January 20, 1974, the Dutch tanker, Kopionella, found and rescued 23 survivors of the sunken Nhật Tảo. On January 29, 1974, South Vietnamese fishermen found 15 South Vietnamese soldiers near Mũi Yến (Qui Nhơn) who had fought on Quang Hòa island and escaped in lifeboats.

After their successful amphibious assault on January 20, the Chinese held 48 prisoners, including an American advisor.[5] They were later released in Hong Kong through the Red Cross.

Chinese casualties

The Chinese claimed that even though its ships had all been hit numerous times, none of them had been sunk. Warships 271 and 396 suffered speed-reducing damage to their engines, but both returned to port safely and were repaired. 274 was damaged more extensively and had to stop at Yongxing Island for emergency repairs. It returned to Hainan under its own power the next day. 389 was damaged the most by an engine room explosion. Its captain managed to run his ship aground and put out the fire with the help of the minesweepers. It was then towed back to base. Eighteen Chinese sailors were killed and 67 were wounded in the battle.[11]


A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when China released the American prisoner taken during the battle. Gerald Emil Kosh, 27, a former U.S. Army captain, was captured with the South Vietnamese on Pattle Island. He was described as a “regional liaison officer” for the American embassy in Saigon on assignment with the South Vietnamese Navy.[8] China released him from custody on January 31 without comment.[12][13]

The leaders of North Vietnam gave a glimpse of their worsening relationship with China by conspicuously not congratulating their ally. An official communique issued by the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam mentioned only its desire for a peaceful and negotiated resolution for any local territorial dispute. In the wake of the battle, North Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyễn Cơ Thạch told the Hungarian ambassador to Hanoi that "there are many documents and data about that the islands in question are Vietnamese." Other North Vietnamese cadres told the Hungarian diplomats that in their view, the conflict between China and the Saigon regime was but a temporary one. However, they later said the issue would be a problem of the entire Vietnamese nation.[14]

After the reunification of Vietnam in April 1975, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam publicly renewed its claim to the Paracels, and the dispute continues to this day. Hanoi has praised the South Vietnamese forces that took part in the battle.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Tài liệu Trung Quốc về Hải chiến Hoàng Sa: Lần đầu hé lộ về vũ khí | Hải chiến Hoàng Sa | Thanh Niên
  2. ^ Danh sách các quân nhân Việt Nam Cộng Hòa hi sinh trong Hải chiến Hoàng Sa 1974, Thanh Niên Online, 09/01/2014
  3. ^ Frivel, M. Taylor. "Offshore Island Disputes". Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China's Territorial Disputes. Princeton University Press. pp. 267–299.
  4. ^ Thomas J. Cutler, The Battle for the Paracel Islands, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. Retrieved on 4-24-2009.
  5. ^ Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Sovereignty Over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, p.3, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2000. ISBN 90-411-1381-9. Retrieved on 4-24-2009.
  6. ^ "U.S. Cautioned 7th Fleet to Shun Paracels Clash". The New York Times. Reuters. January 22, 1974. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  7. ^ "Chinese, Viet Rift Shunned by U.S." Albuquerque Journal. Albuquerque, NM. AP. January 21, 1974. Retrieved December 22, 2016 – via open access
  8. ^ a b Gwertzman, Bernard (January 26, 1974). "Peking Reports Holding U.S. Aide". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  9. ^ Markham, James M. (January 19, 1974). "Saigon Reports Clash with China". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  10. ^ Shipler, David K. (January 21, 1974). "Saigon Says Chinese Control Islands, But Refuses to Admit Complete Defeat". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  11. ^ Carl O. Schustser. "Battle for Paracel Islands".
  12. ^ The World: Storm in the China Sea - TIME
  13. ^ "American Captured on Disputed Island is Freed by China". The New York Times. New York, NY. Reuters. January 31, 1974. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  14. ^ Balázs Szalontai, Im lặng nhưng không đồng tình. BBC Vietnam, March 24, 2009: .
  15. ^ For an overview of Hanoi's reactions to the Chinese occupation of the Paracels in 1974–1975, see also Chi-kin Lo, China's Policy toward Territorial Disputes. The Case of the South China Sea Islands (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 86–98.

Further reading

  • New York Times, "Saigon Says China Bombs 3 Isles and Lands Troops". 1/20/74.
  • New York Times, "23 Vietnamese Survivors of Sea Battle Are Found". 1/23/74.
  • Yoshihara, Toshi. "The 1974 Paracels Sea Battle: A Campaign Appraisal". Naval War College Review. Naval War College Press. 69 (2): 41–65. Archived from the original on August 1, 2016.

External links

Coordinates: 16°30′N 111°38′E / 16.500°N 111.633°E

Bombay Reef

Bombay Reef (Chinese: 浪花礁; pinyin: Lànghuājiāo, Vietnamese: đá Bông Bay) is an atoll of the Paracel Islands. In Chinese, the reef is alternatively known as "Pengbojiao" (Chinese: 蓬勃礁), or "Qilianyu" (literally "7 key lago") along with six other islands close by.

Hoàng Sa District

Hoàng Sa is an island district of Da Nang in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam. It covers an area of 305 km2 (118 sq mi) of the Paracel Islands, including these main features: Pattle Island, North Reef, Robert Island, Discovery Reef, Passu Keah, Triton Island, Tree Island, North Island, Middle Island, South Island, Woody Island, Lincoln Island, Duncan Island, Bombay Reef, Observation Bank, West Sand, Vuladdore Reef, Pyramid Rock. In 2009, Vietnam appointed an official, Dang Cong Ngu, to be the first chairman of Hoàng Sa District. The incumbent is Vo Cong Chanh, who was appointed on May 5, 2014. Vietnam does not control any of the islands it claims and the entire Paracel Islands is under the administration of the People's Republic of China as part of Sansha prefecture.

Vietnam established Hoàng Sa district in 1982 as part of Quang Nam-Da Nang province. Since Quảng Nam and Da Nang were split in November 1996, the island district has belonged to Da Nang.

Johnson South Reef Skirmish

The Johnson South Reef Skirmish was an altercation that took place on 14 March 1988 between Chinese and Vietnamese forces over who would annex the Johnson South Reef in the Union Banks region of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

List of shipwrecks in 1974

The list of shipwrecks in 1974 includes all ships sunk, foundered, grounded, or otherwise lost during 1974.

List of wars involving the People's Republic of China

This is a list of wars involving the People's Republic of China.

Ngụy Văn Thà

Ngụy Văn Thà (16 January 1943 - 19 January 1974) was a Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) naval officer. He was commanding officer of the corvette RVNS Nhật Tảo (HQ-10) during the Battle of the Paracel Islands and was killed when a Chinese missile hit the HQ-10's bridge.

Paracel Islands

The Paracel Islands, also known as Xisha in Chinese and Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese, is a group of islands, reefs, banks and other maritime features in the South China Sea. It is controlled (and occupied) by the People's Republic of China, and also claimed by Taiwan (Republic of China) and Vietnam.

The archipelago includes about 130 small coral islands and reefs, most grouped into the northeast Amphitrite Group or the western Crescent Group. They are distributed over a maritime area of around 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi), with a land area of approximately 7.75 square kilometres (2.99 sq mi). The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of China (PRC) and Vietnam; and approximately one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines.It is the home of Dragon Hole, the deepest underwater sinkhole in the world.The colonial government of French Indochina set up a weather station on Pattle Island in the Crescent Group in the 1930s. Forces of the Republic of China (RoC) landed on Woody Island in the Amphitrite Group in November 1946 but abandoned it in May 1950. Meanwhile, French and Vietnamese forces landed on Pattle Island in the Crescent Group in January 1947. By 1955 South Vietnam had taken possession of the Crescent Group. This situation changed with the Battle of the Paracel Islands in January 1974 whence the PRC expelled the South Vietnamese from the Paracel Islands. South Vietnam's claim to the islands was inherited by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which has ruled all of Vietnam since 1976.In July 2012, China (PRC) declared a city named Sansha, under Hainan Province, as administering the area.Turtles and seabirds are native to the islands, which have a hot and humid climate, abundant rainfall and frequent typhoons. The archipelago is surrounded by productive fishing grounds and a seabed with potential, but as yet unexplored, oil and gas reserves.

In February 2017, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported 20 outposts of the PRC built on reclaimed land in the Paracels, three of which have small harbours capable of berthing naval and commercial ships.

Republic of Vietnam Navy

The Republic of Vietnam Navy (VNN; Vietnamese: Hải quân Việt Nam Cộng hòa; HQVNCH) was the naval branch of the South Vietnamese military, the official armed forces of the former Republic of Vietnam (or South Vietnam) from 1955 to 1975. The early fleet consisted of boats from France. After 1955 and the transfer of the armed forces to Vietnamese control, the fleet was supplied from the United States. With assistance from the U.S., the VNN became the largest Southeast Asian navy, with 42,000 personnel, 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 450 patrol craft, 56 service craft, and 242 junks.

Rocky Island, South China Sea

Rocky Island (simplified Chinese: 石岛; traditional Chinese: 石島; pinyin: Shí Dǎo; literally: 'stone island'; Vietnamese: Đảo Đá) is one of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It is under the administration of the People's Republic of China and guarded by the PLA Navy. The island is also claimed by Vietnam.

Sino-Vietnamese Wars

The Sino-Vietnamese War was a brief border war between China and Vietnam in early 1979.

Sino-Vietnamese War may also refer to:

Trung sisters' rebellion (43 AD)

Lady Triệu Rebellion (248)

Ly Nam De Rebellion (543)

Sui–Former Lý War (602)

Mai Thúc Loan Rebellion (713–723)

Phùng Hưng Rebellion (791)

Tĩnh Hải-Southern Han War (930)

Dương Đình Nghệ Rebellion (931)

2nd Tĩnh Hải-Southern Han War (938)

Former Lê-Song War (981)

Lý–Song War (1075–1077)

Mongol invasions of Vietnam (1257–1288)

Ming–Hồ War (1406–07)

Lam Sơn uprising (1418–1427)

Tây Sơn uprising (1788–1789)

Battle of the Paracel Islands (1974)

Sino-Vietnamese conflicts 1979–90, border conflicts (1979–1990)

Territorial changes of the People's Republic of China

Territorial changes of the People's Republic of China has frequently been revised since its formation on 1 October 1949.

Until 1986, the total territory (or under control) of P.R.China was 10.45 million km2, including:

Continental mainland: ~9.40 million km2

Islands and reefs: ~75,400 km2

Coastal beaches and shoaly lands: ~12,700 km2

Inner sea (mainly Bohai Sea): ~693,000 km2

Territorial (sea only) waters: ~220,000 km2During the 1990s and 2000s, the official size and value of China's territory is rarely officially declared or published, partly because of the frequent and ongoing changes in their territorial claims.

The Republic of China government (on Taiwan) does not recognize the PRC's territorial changes in accordance with the 1947 constitution (although amended in 1991 to include the ROC's free area).

Triton Island

Triton Island (Chinese: 中建岛; pinyin: Zhōngjiàn Dǎo; Vietnamese: đảo Tri Tôn) is the most south-western of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It is located on the southwest corner of Triton Reef and has an area of 7 hectares (17 acres) above sea-level. The reef including the island measures about 120 hectares (300 acres) in area. The island is administered by the People's Republic of China, and is also claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.

The island was historically known by the Chinese as Bànlù Zhì (Chinese: 半路峙; literally: 'halfway tower'), and as Luó Dǎo (Chinese: 螺岛; literally: 'snail island') to Chinese fishermen. Other Chinese sources have it named as 南建岛, as it was the southernmost point claimed by China until after 1933. The current Chinese name commemorates the Republic of China Navy warship ROCS Chung-chien (中建號) sent in 1946 to claim the Paracel Islands.

Type 010 minesweeper

The Type 010 class minesweeper is the Chinese versions of the Russian Soviet T-43 class oceangoing minesweeper.

USS Castle Rock (AVP-35)

USS Castle Rock (AVP-35) was a United States Navy Barnegat-class small seaplane tender in commission from 1944 to 1946 which saw service in the late months of World War II. After the war, she was in commission in the United States Coast Guard as the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Castle Rock (WAVP-383), later WHEC-383, from 1948 to 1971, seeing service in the Vietnam War during her Coast Guard career. Transferred to South Vietnam in 1971, she served in the Republic of Vietnam Navy as the frigate RVNS Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-05) and fought in the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974. When South Vietnam collapsed at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Trần Bình Trọng fled to the Philippines, where she served in the Philippine Navy from 1979 to 1985 as the frigate RPS (later BRP) Francisco Dagohoy (PF-10).

USS Chincoteague (AVP-24)

USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) was a United States Navy seaplane tender in commission from 1943 to 1946 that saw service in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, she was in commission in the United States Coast Guard as the cutter USCGC Chincoteague (WAVP-375), later WHEC-375, from 1949 to 1972. She was transferred to South Vietnam in 1972 and was commissioned into service with the Republic of Vietnam Navy as the frigate RVNS Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), seeing combat in the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974. When South Vietnam collapsed at the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975, she fled to the Philippines, where she was commissioned into the Philippine Navy, serving as the frigate RPS (later BRP) Andrés Bonifacio (PF-7) from 1976 to 1985.

USS Serene (AM-300)

USS Serene (AM-300) was an Admirable-class minesweeper built for the United States Navy during World War II. She served in the Pacific Ocean and was awarded six battle stars. She was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1946. In January 1964, the former Serene was transferred to South Vietnam as RVNS Nhựt Tảo (HQ-10) in the Republic of Vietnam Navy. She was sunk in January 1974 during combat with Chinese forces in the Battle of the Paracel Islands.

Woody Island (South China Sea)

Woody Island, also called Yongxing Island (simplified Chinese: 永兴岛; traditional Chinese: 永興島; pinyin: Yǒngxīng Dǎo; literally: 'Eternal Prosperity Island') in People's Republic of China (PRC) and Phu Lam Island (Vietnamese: Đảo Phú Lâm) in Vietnam, is the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea (SCS), with an area of 2.1 square kilometres (0.81 sq mi). It has a population of more than 1,000 people, with roads, banks and a "small" (as defined by the FAA and ICAO) air strip. The Paracel Islands are a group of islands, reefs, banks and atolls in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. Woody Island is part of the Amphitrite Group in the eastern Paracels and is approximately equidistant from Hainan and the Vietnam coast.

The island has been under the control of the People's Republic of China since 1956. It is administered by Sansha, a town located on the island.It is disputed territory and is also claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.

Mainland China
Cross-Taiwan Strait
(vs Taiwan)
(after 1 Oct 1949)
See also
Pratas Islands
Paracel Islands
NorthEast SCS
Spratly Islands
Southern SCS
Tudjuh Archipelago

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