A crew of 39 Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino sailors were missing at sea Wednesday after a fishing vessel capsized in the Indian Ocean, officials said.
Multinational search efforts were underway after Chinese vessel Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 overturned in the early hours of Tuesday with 17 Chinese, 17 Indonesians and five Filipinos on board.
“Chinese and foreign ships have arrived in the area where the incident occurred and the search and rescue work is ongoing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing Wednesday.
“More rescue personnel are rushing to the scene,” he added.
“We will continue to take all necessary measures with all parties to search for and rescue the missing persons.”
Beijing has deployed two commercial vessels to the area — the Lu Peng Yuan Yu 018 and Yuan Fu Hai — to help with the operation, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Philippine foreign ministry spokeswoman Teresita Daza said Manila was “aware and is closely monitoring the situation”.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry also confirmed the incident and said Beijing was coordinating the rescue efforts.
The capsized vessel is owned by Penglai Jinglu Fishery Company, one of China’s major state-run fishing firms.
It was authorised to fish for neon flying squid and Pacific saury, according to the North Pacific Fisheries Commission.
It left Cape Town in South Africa on May 5 for Busan in South Korea, according to the Marine Traffic tracking website, which last located the vessel on May 10 southeast of Reunion, a tiny French island in the Indian Ocean.
Penglai Jinglu Fishery also runs squid and tuna fishing operations in international waters, including the Indian Ocean and seas surrounding Latin America.
The company declined to answer AFP questions about the incident.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang called on authorities to bolster safety procedures and oversight of fishing operations.
“It is necessary to further strengthen the safety management of fishing vessels at sea and implement preventive measures to ensure the safety of maritime transportation,” he said.
China has the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, though estimates of its size vary widely.
In 2017, Beijing pledged the fleet would be capped at 3,000 vessels, but a 2020 report by Britain-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute placed its size at just under 17,000.
The promise to cap the number followed an international backlash against overfishing by Chinese vessels.
Chinese fishermen have increasingly sailed further afield as fish stocks at home deplete, becoming entangled in a growing number of maritime disputes and accidents.
In 2019, Manila accused a Chinese vessel of ramming a Philippine boat in the disputed South China Sea, causing it to sink and putting the lives of nearly a dozen crew members at risk.