According to reports on Wednesday, a Chinese fishing boat capsized in the Indian Ocean, leaving 39 people missing for over 24 hours. The incident occurred at around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, with the crew consisting of 17 Chinese nationals, 17 Indonesians, and five Filipinos.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang have directed Chinese diplomats abroad, along with the ministries of agriculture and transportation, to provide assistance in the search and rescue operation for survivors. Xi emphasized the need for “all-out efforts” in the rescue mission, while Li issued measures to enhance the safety management of fishing vessels at sea to ensure maritime transport and production safety.
The cause of the capsizing has not been determined yet, and Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have expressed their readiness to join the search efforts. The Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency reported that the incident occurred approximately 4,600 kilometers (2,900 miles) northwest of Australia.
Numerous ships and an Australian Defense Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft are involved in searching the area. The Indian Ocean spans from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula to East Africa and Western Australia. So far, no survivors or life rafts have been located.
The Philippine Coast Guard Command Center stated that it is closely monitoring the situation and coordinating with the Chinese Embassy in Manila and search and rescue teams operating in the vicinity of the vessel’s last known position.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has taken charge of coordinating the search effort in a remote location of the Indian Ocean, approximately 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) northwest of Perth. The distress beacon signal from the fishing vessel was received by the agency at around 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and though the weather conditions were initially extreme, they have since improved.
Merchants and fishing vessels in the area are actively participating in the search for survivors. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has deployed a Challenger rescue aircraft from Perth, which will drop a buoy to aid in drift modeling and enhance the search operation.
The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, owned by the Penglai Jinglu Fishery Co. Ltd., and based in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, was the vessel involved in the incident. Another Chinese vessel, Lu Peng Yuan Yu 018, is currently operating near the upturned hull and has been instructed to conduct a grid search for any potential survivors, as directed by the Indonesian agency.
China is known to have the world’s largest fishing fleet, with many vessels staying at sea for extended periods, often supported by Chinese state maritime security agencies and a vast network of support vessels.
Myanmar and Bangladesh are currently recovering from the aftermath of a powerful cyclone that struck their coastlines, resulting in extensive damage and a reported death toll of at least 21 individuals, with hundreds more feared to be missing. The recovery efforts are underway in these regions situated along the Bay of Bengal at the northern end of the Indian Ocean.
In a separate matter concerning the Indian Ocean, a report released in 2021 by the Norway-based watchdog group Trygg Mat Tracking revealed concerns regarding the lack of international cooperation in safeguarding marine species on the high seas.
The report documented instances of Chinese squid fishing vessels using large nets to illegally capture already overfished tuna, contributing to a surge in unregulated fishing activities. The study found that the number of squid vessels in the unregulated fishing areas of the Indian Ocean has increased six-fold since 2016.
Furthermore, the U.S. Coast Guard encountered a perilous situation in 2022 when it engaged in a confrontation with Chinese vessels near Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The Coast Guard’s mission was to inspect the vessels for any indications of illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing practices. The incident highlighted ongoing concerns about such activities in the region.
Chinese fishing vessels engaging in illegal activities have been observed employing tactics to evade detection and tracking. These vessels often operate in a state referred to as “dark,” where their mandatory tracking devices are switched off, transmit intermittently, or provide false identification information. This practice hinders efforts to monitor their movements and enforce regulations.
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014 serves as an example of how transponder locating devices can affect radar visibility. The Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers went missing during a flight from Kuala Lumpur and is believed to have crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. When the aircraft’s transponder stopped transmitting, it became invisible to civilian radar, complicating search and rescue efforts and contributing to the ongoing mystery surrounding its fate.