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Chinese Fishing Boat Capsizes in Indian Ocean; 39 Missing

FILE - A Chinese fishing boat is pictured in the Taiwan Strait near Niushan Island, April 9, 2023. China is believed to operate the world's largest fishing fleet, and one of its vessels capsized early May 16, 2023, in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Several ships and aircraft searched Wednesday for 39 people reported missing after a Chinese fishing boat capsized in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the accident happened around 3 a.m. Tuesday. The report said the crew included 17 people from China, 17 from Indonesia and five from the Philippines.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang ordered Chinese diplomats abroad, as well as the agriculture and transportation ministries, to assist in the search for survivors.

"All-out efforts" must be made in the rescue operation, Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. Li ordered unspecified measures to "reduce casualties and strengthen safety management of fishing vessels at sea to ensure safe maritime transport and production," Xinhua said.

No word was given on the cause of the capsizing.

Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines also expressed their willingness to join in the search. Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency said the capsizing occurred about 4,600 kilometers northwest of Australia.

Several ships and an Australian Defense Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft have been searching the area. The Indian Ocean stretches from South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula to east Africa and western Australia. No survivors or life rafts have been spotted.

The Philippine Coast Guard Command Center said Wednesday that it was monitoring the situation and coordinating with the Chinese Embassy in Manila, as well as search and rescue teams operating near the vessel's last known location.

Remote area

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it was coordinating the search in what it called a remote location in the Indian Ocean, about 5,000 kilometers northwest of the coastal city of Perth. It said the agency received a distress beacon signal from the fishing vessel about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, Australian time, and that weather in the area Tuesday was extreme but had improved by Wednesday.

Along the Bay of Bengal at the Indian Ocean's northern end, Myanmar and Bangladesh were undergoing recovery from a powerful cyclone that smashed into their coastlines, causing widespread destruction and at least 21 deaths, with hundreds of others believed missing.

Merchant and fishing vessels in the area were also searching for survivors on Wednesday.

A Perth-based Challenger rescue aircraft will drop a buoy to help with drift modelling to further assist in the search, the agency said.

The capsized hull was spotted and the transmitter detected more than 1,000 kilometers south of Sri Lanka, with nearest port appearing to be the island chain of the Maldives, about 500 kilometers to the north of the search area.

The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 was based in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, operated by the Penglai Jinglu Fishery Co. Ltd., according to the reports. Another Chinese vessel, Lu Peng Yuan Yu 018, was operating near to the upturned hull and was asked to conduct a grid search for survivors, according to the Indonesian agency.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said additional rescue assets were on their way to the scene.

"We will continue to take all measures possible with all parties to search and rescue the missing persons. The Chinese side thanks the Australian maritime search and rescue department for promptly dispatching aircraft and coordinating passing foreign ships to participate in the search and rescue," Wang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday.

China is believed to operate the world's largest fishing fleet. Many of them stay at sea for months or even years at a time, supported by Chinese state maritime security agencies and a sprawling network of support vessels.