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Taiwan, China Work Together to Rescue 130 Fishermen - 2002-07-09

Fire and a fast-approaching tropical storm were enough to overcome differences between Taiwan and China, as Chinese fishermen were rescued from a burning ship near Taiwan's southern port.

Authorities in Taiwan's southern port of Kaohsiung dispatched two Navy helicopters and several small fire-fighting vessels to pluck more than 130 Chinese fishermen off the burning boat.

Crewmembers huddled at the front of the boat awaiting rescue, as smoke and flames flared from the vessel and it began to sink in violent waves. One crewmember is reported missing.

The rescue was hampered by strong winds and high waves as a tropical storm approached Taiwan.

This fisherman, now on land, said the blaze started in the engine room when electrical wires were swamped by seawater and short-circuited. He said there was no time to put the fire out before it got out of control.

The boat served as a floating dormitory for Chinese fishermen working for Taiwan fishing companies. The men did not have visas to come ashore, so they slept on the boat anchored off the island.

Taiwan maintains strict immigration restrictions on Chinese nationals. Beijing claims sovereignty over the island, which has been governed separately since the end of China's civil war in 1949.

In times of calamity, officials on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been known to cooperate in rescue and recovery operations.