High-Seas Search for 39 Crewmembers of Capsized Chinese Fishing Vessel

capsized Chinese longliner
Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 went missing in the Indian Ocean south of the Maldives - North Pacific Fisheries Commission photo

Published May 17, 2023 1:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

A multinational search is underway in the Indian Ocean for the crew of a Chinese fishing vessel that capsized with a crew of 39 aboard. China’s President Xi Jinping has ordered the departments of the Chinese government to launch the search while thanking international participants and welcoming their assistance.

The Australian Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) was the first to detect the vessel’s distress reporting that they picked up the signal from a distress beacon early on the morning of May 16. An investigation determined that the distress signal was coming from the Chinese fishing vessel Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, owned by Penglai Jinglu Fishery based in Shandong. The vessel’s last known position is said to be south of the Maldives with AMSA saying it was approximately 5,000 km (3,100 miles) northwest of Perth, Australia.

A bulk carrier, the Panama-flagged Navios Taurus (76,596 dwt) outbound from China to Brazil was in the area. AMSA reports that the bulker reached the area late yesterday. They reported finding an upturned hull and no signs of survivors. 

The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 is reported to be 1,400 tons with the vessel’s registry with the North Pacific Fisheries Commission showing that it had a maximum crew of 60. China’s CCTV however is reporting that there are 17 Chinese, 17 Indonesian, and five Filipino crewmembers aboard the vessel currently. The database reflects the vessel as 229 feet in length. The AIS signal shows the vessel departed Cape Town, South Africa on March 3 with an ultimate destination of Pusan, South Korea entered into the AIS. 

Informed of the incident, President Xi ordered an all-out rescue effort to be launched. A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said during his daily briefing today that Xi Jinping asked the Foreign Ministry and relevant diplomatic missions to be in touch with their international counterparts to coordinate the rescue efforts. The resources of Australia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Indonesia, and the Philippines are all providing assistance or monitoring the situation.

“Chinese and foreign vessels have arrived at relevant waters and the search and rescue operation is intensively underway. More help is on the way. We will continue to work together with relevant sides to do everything possible to find those who have gone missing,” the spokesperson said in response to questions.

CCTV reports that two Chinese vessels were heading to the scene. The Australian Defence Force also sent a Poseidon aircraft to assist with the long-range search. AMSA also reports that other merchant ships and vessels are in the area.

The search was being hampered yesterday by extreme weather conditions according to AMSA with winds at up to 74 mph and seas at 23 feet. Conditions however have abated today with winds between approximately 25 and 30 mph and seas of approximately 6 to 10 feet.

China’s Ministry of Transportation reported as of midday Wednesday, nearly 20 hours after the distress beacon signal, no survivors have been located. They have also not found life rafts from the vessel.

President Xi called for improved early warning systems and other safety improvements for China’s distant deep-water fishing fleet. The operator of the vessel is reported to have a fleet ranging between 12 and 24 vessels operating in the North Pacific, Indian Ocean, and South America. China has the world’s largest fleet of distant-water fishing vessels with estimates at nearly 3,000 vessels.