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China Continues Search as 7 Bodies Found at Capsized Fishing Boat

capsized fishing boat search
Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 (file photo from North Pacific Fisheries Commission)

Published May 22, 2023 2:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

Chinese state media is reporting that seven bodies have been recovered from the capsized commercial fishing boat in the Indian Ocean as they vowed to continue the search in response to the order from President Xi Jinping for an all-out search effort. The Australian Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) reported that it was suspending its search effort after four days saying that China would lead the recovery efforts going forward.

China continues to send resources to the site of the overturned fishing vessel Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 located approximately 3,100 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, over 900 miles south of Sri Lanka, and nearly 400 miles east of Diego Garcia. AMSA said the search area consisted of more than 4,600 square miles. AMSA speculated in its final statement that the vessel likely capsized “due to the cyclonic conditions.” On May 16, they reported winds of up to 75 mph and 23-foot seas.

Two days after the 229-foot longliner commercial fishing boat capsized with a crew of 39 aboard, China reported on May 18 that nine and then 10 vessels had reached the area despite poor sea conditions. Today, May 22, they are saying that there are now 14 ships involved in the search and rescue. This includes a tugboat, three warships, two merchant ships, and seven fishing boats. A Sri Lankan warship also reached the scene on May 20. An additional fishing transport vessel was expected to reach the scene today.

Divers from the Sri Lanka Navy began searching the overturned Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 on Saturday. Later in the day, they recovered a body from the captain’s cabin on the vessel which was transferred to a Chinese vessel. Reports today are indicating that three additional bodies have been recovered from the vessel. Previously, China said that one of its warships recovered two bodies from the ocean. It is unclear where the additional body was located.

Chinese rescue teams climbed on top of the hull of the Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 on Sunday and attempted tapping at various points from the bow to stern. They received no responses. Separately, a Chinese warship located and salvaged a life raft from the fishing boat which was believed to be empty. Debris, including bags and plastic baskets, had been found in the ocean.

They are reporting that the vessel remains stable in its capsized position. The hull is drifting towards the southeast.

Another Chinese vessel departed from Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and is expected to reach the site tomorrow, May 23. It is bringing 12 emergency team members from the Shanghai Salvage Bureau to the scene.

China acknowledged the assistance of Australia, India, and Sri Lanka in sending resources to the site. In addition, AMSA reports that the Maldives and Diego Garcia provided expedited access to their airspace and airports. It permitted AMSA to extend the length of its flights over the site and to refuel in those countries. In addition, Diego Garcia, the Philippines, Indonesia, La Reunion, and the United States, all provided assistance to AMSA during the search.

China’s Ministry of Transport said in an update on Monday that the efforts continue. They are adjusting the mission using “scientifically formulated search and rescue plans.” AMSA had previously said that due to the extreme conditions and time since the vessel capsized that survival had become more challenging.