39 missing after Chinese fishing boat capsizes in Indian Ocean, reports say

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Reports on Wednesday said 39 people are missing more than 24 hours after a Chinese fishing boat operating in the Indian Ocean capsized.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the accident occurred around 3 a.m. Tuesday. The report says the crew includes 17 from China, 17 from Indonesia and five from the Philippines.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang have ordered overseas Chinese diplomats, as well as the agriculture and transport ministries, to help search for survivors.

«Ultimate efforts» should be made in the rescue operation, Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. Li ordered unspecified measures to «reduce casualties and strengthen the safety management of fishing vessels at sea to ensure safe maritime transportation and production,» Xinhua said.

No word was given about the cause of the wreck.

Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines have also expressed their willingness to join the search. Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said the wreck occurred about 2,900 miles northwest of Australia.

Several ships and an Australian Defense Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft have been searching the area. The Indian Ocean stretches from southern Asia and the Arabian Peninsula to eastern Africa and western Australia. No survivors or life rafts have been seen.

The Philippine Coast Guard Command Center said on Wednesday that 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.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it was coordinating the search in what it called a remote location in the Indian Ocean, some 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) northwest of the coastal city of Perth. It said the agency received an emergency signal from the fishing vessel around 5:30am Australian time on Tuesday and that weather conditions in the area on Tuesday were «extreme» but had improved by Wednesday.

Merchant and fishing boats in the area were also searching for survivors on Wednesday.

A Perth-based Challenger rescue aircraft will drop a buoy to assist with the drift pattern to further aid the search, the agency said.

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, Lu Peng Yuan Yu 018, is operating near the capsized hulk and has been asked to conduct a search for survivors, according to the Indonesian agency.

China is believed to operate the world’s largest fishing fleet. Many of them remain at sea for months or even years at a time, supported by Chinese state maritime security agencies and a sprawling network of support vessels.

Along the Bay of Bengal in the far north of the Indian Ocean, Myanmar and Bangladesh were recovering from a powerful cyclone that battered their shores, causing widespread destruction and at least 21 deaths, and hundreds of people are believed to be missing.

Chinese squid fishing boats have been documented using wide nets to illegally catch tuna that is already overfished as part of a surge in unregulated activity in the Indian Ocean, according to a report published in 2021 by a watchdog group based in Norway which highlighted growing concerns about the lack of international cooperation to protect marine species on the high seas.

The group, called Trygg Mat Tracking, found that the number of squid boats in the high seas of the Indian Ocean, where fishing for the species is unregulated, has increased sixfold 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 the vessels for signs of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

Illegally operating Chinese fishing vessels have been known to navigate «in the dark,» with their mandatory tracking device giving a vessel’s position either turned off, transmitting intermittently, 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 is still missing, became invisible to civilian radar when its transponder homing device stopped transmitting during a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

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