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Two Bodies Recovered as Search Continues for Chinese Fishing Vessel

Chinese fishing vessel
Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 went missing in the Indian Ocean south of the Maldives - North Pacific Fisheries Commission photo

Published May 18, 2023 3:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

Chinese state media is reporting that two bodies were recovered during the search in the Indian Ocean after one of its commercial fishing vessels capsized. At the same time, China’s Ambassador to Australia has called on Australia and other nations to expand the rescue efforts.

The Australian Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) continues to coordinate the search which is involving resources from multiple countries as well as the commercial shipping and fishing industries. The longliner Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 is believed to have capsized on Tuesday possibly encountering heavy weather from Cyclone Fabian which has been impacting the region. The vessel, which is reported to be 1,400 tons, had a crew of 39 aboard. Early on May 16, Australia began receiving a distress buoy signal from the vessel.

AMSA is emphasizing the distance and size of the search area, which is based on where the overturned hull was discovered Tuesday afternoon by the bulker Navios Taurus. AMSA reports modeling defined an area south of the overturned hull and that they are focusing on over 4,600 square miles for the search. It is about 3,100 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, more than 900 miles south of Sri Lanka, and nearly 400 miles to the east of Diego Garcia.

Chinese officials are reporting that three of the country’s warships are in the search area as well two commercial vessels. CCTC said that four fishing boats were joining the search as well as two foreign merchant ships. The first two bodies located were recovered by one of the Chinese warships. They also reported that rescuers spotted objects including bags and plastic containers. 

India, despite having strained relations with China, announced that it has sent an aircraft as part of its humanitarian action. They reported conducting multiple and extensive searches and had been able to locate possible debris for the fishing vessel.

In an end-of-day update on May 18, AMSA said a total of seven vessels are engaged in the search. Sri Lanka is also sending one of its naval ships to join the search. AMSA said the Australian Defence Force has continued flights after its plane spent the night in the Maldives to refuel. In addition, AMSA sent its Challenger rescue aircraft, and a private charter aircraft is also participating in the search.

JRCC Australia remains hopeful for a successful outcome, however, it also noted the time elapsed combined with the weather conditions are making survival more challenging. 

The Chinese government reports it has made saving the crew a high priority. President Xi Jinping issued special instructions to deploy additional rescue forces, coordinate with international marine search and rescue assistance, and make all-out rescue efforts. The multinational effort is including support from the Maldives, Philippines, and Indonesia, as well as assets from Australia, India, and Sri Lanka.