Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Taiwanese vessel located, but skipper remains missing

STORMY SEAS:Chen Chih-wen’s family cast doubt on the Indonesian crew’s statement that he fell overboard, saying he was a veteran seafarer

By Jason Pan  /  Staff writer, with CNA

A missing Taiwanese fishing vessel, the Guo Rong 333 (國榮333), has been located in waters near Lombok, Indonesia, but the whereabouts of its captain, Chen Chih-wen (陳致文), remain a mystery, with an Indonesian crew saying he fell overboard during rough weather.

Chen’s family and friends yesterday said they suspected that the ship had been commandeered by the crew, because communication with the vessel’s satellite phone was cut off for days. Tracking the ship’s GPS signal indicated that it was heading for Indonesia, instead of its intended destination, the Solomon Islands.

Chen was the sole Taiwanese aboard the ship when it set off on June 12 from Palau, with 12 Indonesian crewmembers.

An Indonesian naval ship intercepted the Guo Rong 333 north of Lombok Island yesterday.

Indonesian authorities questioned the crew, who said they ran into bad weather and Chen fell overboard.

Chen’s family in Pingtung County said they do not believe what the crew said.

“Chen had many years of experience as a captain of fishing vessels. He would not have fallen into the sea. We want to know what really happened,” said Chen Yi-fei (陳奕霏), the captain’s younger sister.

Lin Chin-hsi (林進西), the ship’s owner, said he was trying to get more information from Indonesia and that many things still needed to be clarified.

Chen’s family and friends said they have not been able to reach him by satellite phone since Thursday last week. Suspecting that the vessel might have been hijacked, they asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for help.

The ship is now being towed to Mataram, Lombok’s largest city, where the crew will be questioned by authorities.

Chen’s family said there have been numerous incidents of Indonesian crews mutineering and taking over Taiwanese fishing vessels. In July last year, the Taiwanese captain and chief engineer of a fishing vessel from Suao (蘇澳) in Yilan County were killed by Indonesian crewmembers.

In March this year, a Taiwanese vessel, the Fu Fa (福發), was reportedly hijacked by 14 Indonesian crewmembers while fishing in the Indian Ocean. The captain, surnamed Cheng (鄭), and the ship remain missing.

An Indonesian official said the Taiwanese government can file an official inquiry request with the Indonesian Ministry of Justice to conduct an investigation.

“If the crew had taken illegal actions, then they should be punished by the law,” said Rahmadi Sunoko, an official at the human resources section of Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

“Most of the time, conflict happens because of communication problems between the Taiwanese captain and the foreign crew. The Indonesians [crewmembers] do not understand Chinese, and the captain does not understand the language [that the crew speak]. It can lead to misunderstandings and confrontations,” Sunoko said.

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