Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Mysterious case of missing crew still unresolved

DPA , SYDNEY

An investigation into the mysterious disappearance of the crew of a Taiwanese fishing boat found drifting off the Australian coast four months ago is nearly complete, officials said yesterday.

Australian investigators have been trying to piece together the movements of the High Aim 6 between Oct. 31, when it left the port of Liuchiu, and Jan. 8, when it was boarded by navy personnel 250km off the west coast of Broome in Western Australia.

The first line of enquiry was that the Taiwanese-owned Indonesian-flagged fishing boat ran out of fuel, leaving those on board with the option of drifting out into the Indian Ocean or taking to the lifeboats and heading for Australia.

But there was plenty of fuel on board, as well as food and water, and no evidence that lifeboats were launched.

Another thought was that the 20m vessel was boarded by pirates late in December after the owners spoke by radio telephone to the captain.

But there was no sign of a struggle, and hijackers would have made off with the modern long-line fishing boat.

Personal belongings were found on the 130-tonne vessel. Seven toothbrushes indicated that, as well as the Taiwanese captain and first mate, there were at least five Indonesian crew.

A catch of rotting fish in the hold was proof that the ship was a legitimate fishing vessel.

Geoff Rohan, of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, suggested the High Aim 6 might have drifted crewless from the US' Marshall Islands, its last known location.

A search of 24,000km2 in the area where the boat was intercepted failed to find any trace of the captain and crew.

Among the oddities is that when the High Aim 6 was first sighted, the motor was running and the propeller turning. But the motor was not running when the ship was boarded five days later.

The boat is in Broome harbor, Australian authorities unable to declare it a wreck or dispose of it because no law had been broken.

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