The Indonesian crew of a fishing boat are suspected of throwing the Taiwanese skipper and chief engineer overboard during a voyage in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) officials said yesterday.
A CGA vessel caught up with the Te Hung Hsing No. 368 in the early hours of yesterday, nearly two weeks after its owner lost contact with the boat, the officials said.
The fishing vessel, which is registered in Suao (蘇澳) in Yilan County, was 623 nautical miles (1,154km) southwest of the Republic of Kiribati, 4,676 nautical miles southeast of Oluanpi (鵝鑾鼻), coast guard spokesperson Ho Shih-ching (何士青) told a press conference in Suao.
Coastguard personnel found no sign of the fishing boat’s skipper Chen Te-sheng (陳德生) or chief engineer Ho Chang-lin (何昌琳), the CGA’s Maritime Patrol Directorate General said, and it is suspected that the pair were thrown overboard.
The personnel boarded the Te Hung Hsing No. 368 and questioned the nine Indonesians onboard, but the crew could not say what had happened to Chen and Ho, the only two Taiwanese on the boat, the CGA agency said.
The coast guard patrol is now escorting the deep-sea fishing boat back to Taiwan, and they are scheduled to arrive in Nanfangao fishing port in Yilan on Aug. 20.
Upon arrival, the Indonesian crew will be taken to the Yilan District Prosecutors Office for further questioning.
The Te Hung Hsing No. 368 left the port Nanfangao (南方澳) on Jan. 18 to fish for shark and swordfish in the eastern Pacific. It lost contact when it was about 527 nautical miles northwest of the port of Papeete in French Polynesia on July 15, the Fisheries Agency said.
The boat’s owner Chuang Ching-wang (莊清旺) said that Chen told him they had just refueled and were going to fish in nearby waters the next day.
After that, Chaung said, he lost contact with Chen, although data from the boat’s GPS showed that it was on the move and had not stopped for any fishing operations.
He said the GPS showed that the boat was heading west along the equator in the direction of Indonesia, way off course, which led him to suspect that it had been hijacked.
Yesterday the families of the missing skipper and chief engineer said that Taiwanese authorities had not taken action in time.
Chen’s daughter, Chen Chia-ting (陳佳婷), said her family had asked the relevant authorities to seek help from US military forces close to Kiribati.
However, the US military declined to help, saying the fishing boat was too far away, according to Chen Chia-ting. She slammed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Fisheries Agencies for slowness in responding to requests to find her father and of not securing help from other countries.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Fisheries Agency did not work actively to attempt a rescue operation after contact with the ship was lost, she added.
“It’s a matter of life! Why couldn’t the Ministry of Foreign Affairs help us fight [for assistance]?” she asked. “I want my father, not an apology from the government.”
In a press statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said its overseas missions has requested help from France, the US, Kiribati, New Zealand, Australia, and international organizations, such as Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
The foreign ministry said France had dispatched a helicopter to search for the fishing boat and take aerial photos. In addition, the US, Australia and New Zealand had also maintained close contact with the ministry as they monitored the vessel’s movements, the ministry said in a statement.
Last month the CGA vessel, the Hsun Hu No. 7, left on a three-month mission to protect Taiwanese fishing ships in the Western Pacific Ocean, and was ordered to look for the Te Hung Hsing No. 368 on Tuesday, when it was anchored in the Fijian capital Suva, for refueling, the CGA said.
According to the CGA, although the Hsun Hu No. 7 was then 2,000 nautical miles away from the Te Hung Hsing No. 368, it was the closet Taiwanese patrol vessel to the fishing boat.