Several ships and planes searched for 39 people who were reported missing on Wednesday after a Chinese fishing boat capsized in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV said the incident happened around 3 am on Tuesday. The report said the crew includes 17 from China, 17 from Indonesia and five from the Philippines.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang have ordered Chinese diplomats abroad, as well as agriculture and transport ministries, to assist in the search for survivors.
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“All-out efforts” must be made in the rescue operation, Xi said according to the official Xinhua news agency. Li ordered unspecified measures to “reduce casualties and strengthen safety management of fishing vessels at sea to ensure safe maritime transportation and production,” Xinhua said.
No word has been given on the cause of the capsize.
Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines have also expressed their willingness to join the research. Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said the capsize happened about 2,900 miles northwest of Australia.
Several vessels and an Australian Defense Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft patrolled the area. The Indian Ocean extends from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula to East Africa and Western Australia. No survivors or life rafts were identified.
The Philippine Coast Guard command center said Wednesday it was monitoring the situation and coordinating with the Chinese embassy in Manila, as well as search and rescue teams operating near the ship’s last known location.
Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority said it was coordinating the search in what it called a remote location in the Indian Ocean, about 3,100 miles northwest of the coastal city of Perth. He said the agency received a distress signal from the vessel at about 5:30am Tuesday Australian time and that weather conditions in the area were “extreme” on Tuesday but improved by Wednesday.
Along the Bay of Bengal at the northern end of the Indian Ocean, Myanmar and Bangladesh were recovering from a powerful cyclone that pounded their shores, causing widespread destruction and at least 21 deaths, with hundreds more believed missing .
Freighters and fishing vessels in the area were also searching for survivors on Wednesday.
A Perth-based Challenger rescue aircraft will drop a buoy to help with drift modeling to further assist in the search, the agency said.
The search covered an area practically in the center of the Indian Ocean. The capsized hull was spotted and the transmitter picked up more than 620 miles south of Sri Lanka, with the closest port appearing to be the Maldives island chain, some 310 miles north of the search area.
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The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 was based in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, operated by Penglai Jinglu Fishery Co. Ltd., according to reports. Another Chinese ship, the Lu Peng Yuan Yu 018, is operating near the capsized hull and has been asked to conduct a grid search for survivors, according to the Indonesian agency.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said additional relief supplies were on their way to the scene.
“We will continue to take all possible measures with all parties to search and rescue the missing persons. The Chinese side thanks the Australian Maritime Search and Rescue Department for promptly dispatching the planes and coordinating the passing foreign vessels to participate in the search and to the rescue,” Wang said. he told reporters during a daily briefing on Wednesday.
China is believed to operate the largest fishing fleet in the world. Many of them remain at sea for months or even years, supported by China’s state maritime safety agencies and an extensive network of support vessels.
According to a report released in 2021 by a Norway-based watchdog group, which highlighted growing concerns about the lack of international cooperation to protect marine species on the high seas.
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The group, called Trygg Mat Tracking, found that the number of deep-sea squid trawlers in the Indian Ocean, where fishing for the species is not regulated, has increased six-fold since 2016.
The US Coast Guard was also involved in a dangerous confrontation with Chinese vessels not far from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands in 2022 during a mission to inspect vessels for any signs of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.
Illegally operating Chinese fishing vessels have been known to sail “in the dark”, with their mandatory tracking device giving the position of a dead vessel, intermittently transmitting or providing false identifiers.
In 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is believed to have crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board. That Boeing 777, which remains missing, went invisible to civilian radars when its transponder tracking device stopped transmitting during a flight from Kuala Lumpur.