Rescue effort winds down for missing crew of Chinese fishing boat

Tria Dianti
Rescue effort winds down for missing crew of Chinese fishing boat A stock photo of fishing boats in a harbor on Pingtan island, the closest point in China to Taiwan, in southeast Fujian province on April 15, 2023.

A rescue effort to find 39 missing seafarers from a Chinese fishing vessel that capsized in the Indian Ocean is being scaled down, an Indonesian official said Wednesday, with no survivors found after a weeklong search for the crew that included Indonesians and Filipinos.

Seventeen Indonesians, 17 Chinese and five Filipinos were on board the Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, which overturned early last week in a remote area northwest of Australia.

China’s Ministry of Transport said Tuesday it had downsized the search effort to a 48-hour small-scale operation, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Beijing’s embassy in Jakarta said that seven bodies had been found, but none had been identified, according to Judha Nugraha, citizen protection director at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We will find out the final outcome of the search tomorrow,” he said.

The foreign ministry has coordinated with police to take DNA samples from the families of the missing Indonesian crew, Nugraha added. 

The Philippine Coast Guard on Wednesday expressed condolences to the families of crew missing from the vessel, including the five Filipinos.

“We are saddened by this development,” said spokesman Rear Adm. Armand Balilo in a statement. “Since day one, we have been monitoring and coordinating with the Australian Maritime Rescue Center and the Chinese Embassy as to the progress of the search and rescue (SAR) operations.”

On Tuesday afternoon, seven ships were still operating at the site of the incident, Xinhua reported. 

The international search operation included contributions from Australia, China, India and Sri Lanka.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which received a distress call from the boat after it came into trouble, suspended its search on Saturday after scouring an area of 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 square miles) with multiple aircraft and ships.

“Weather conditions were extreme, with the passage of Cyclone Fabian that saw 120 kph winds and 7 meter seas. It is likely that the vessel capsized due to the cyclonic conditions,” the maritime authority in a statement.

“Our thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the affected crew, and we acknowledge the distress they will be feeling at this time.”

Calls for investigation

Netty Prasetiyani Aher, an Indonesian legislator who sits on the health and labor committee, urged the government to work with China to determine if there was any negligence or unlawfulness that contributed to the incident. 

“If there is any violation that made the boat overturn, the government must take firm action,” she said in a media statement on Tuesday, without elaborating. 

She said the families of crew members deserved complete information about what happened and the government must ensure they received appropriate entitlements and compensation.

China has been expanding its distant-water fishing fleet in recent years, raising concerns about overfishing and environmental impacts.

More than 9,400 Indonesian crew members were working on foreign ships in 2020, according to the latest data from the foreign ministry, though advocates for seafarers say that could be an underestimate.

Mohamad Abdi Suhufan, national coordinator at Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia, a nongovernmental organization, said many Indonesians work on Chinese fishing vessels without proper documentation or protection.

“Even if the government has data, we suspect that it is not valid because according to our information, the number of those who work illegally is more than those who are legal,” he told BenarNews.

He estimated there were about 60,000 to 70,000 Indonesian crew members working on Chinese fishing boats.

Some 40 Indonesian crew members died on foreign fishing vessels from November 2019 to March 2022, according to DFW.

About 84% of the deaths occurred on Chinese vessels and 14% on Taiwanese ships, it said. The National Fishers Center, which is run by DFW, received 93 complaints from 283 Indonesian and migrant crew members over the same period.  

The top complaint was non-payment of salaries and/or 50% deduction of wages.


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