TAIPEI: A Taiwanese ship carrying 49 crew has vanished in the remote South Atlantic Ocean without any sign of a mayday call but shortly after its skipper reported it was taking on water, authorities said on Sunday.
The Hsiang Fu Chun, a 700-ton squid fishing vessel, lost contact with its owners “soon” after reporting that water was leaking on to the deck around 3 a.m. on February 26, according to officials.
The vessel, built 28 years ago, was sailing about 1,700 nautical miles off the Falkland Islands when it vanished, according to recorded satellite data.
Its crew include a Taiwanese skipper and chief engineer, as well as 11 Chinese, 21 Indonesian, 13 Filipino and two Vietnamese sailors.
Taiwan has launched a search effort, and is appealing for assistance from Argentina and Britain as well as other ships in the area.
“We still don’t know where the ship is and what happened to it,” Huang Hong-yen, spokesman for the Fisheries Agency, told Agence France-Presse, saying the government had launched a search-and-rescue effort “immediately” after the ship’s owners said it had lost contact.
He added that there was no evidence the boat had sunk. The ship was equipped with a system that automatically issues a mayday signal when placed under a certain water pressure, but no such signal was sent, Huang said.
The remoteness of the location was hindering search efforts, he added, citing Argentine officials as saying it would take six days for a boat and 11 hours for a plane to fly to the area and back again, even in good weather.
Weather conditions in the area had been poor, he said, further hampering the search.
Huang added that three Taiwanese fishing vessels operating there, including a sister ship of Hsiang Fu Chun, had been mobilized in the search.
“We’ll do everything we can even though the search is like searching for a needle in the ocean,” he said.
Huang did not explain why it had taken authorities so many days to make the ship’s disappearance public.
Some Taiwanese media have speculated that the vessel could have lost power and be adrift, or could have been hijacked by crew.