South Pacific search fails to find 29 missing fishermen after abandoned boat found

Posted on Nov 22 2008
[B]WELLINGTON, New Zealand [/B](AP)—The New Zealand air force on Saturday suspended a three-day search covering thousands of square miles (kilometers) of the South Pacific after failing to locate 29 Asian fishermen who have been missing for weeks.

The air force launched its maritime search Thursday after the charred remains of a Taiwan-registered fishing boat were found abandoned near the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati earlier in the month.

The last radio transmission from the vessel—a personal call on a satellite phone from the captain to his wife in Taiwan—took place Oct. 28.

After more than 30 hours of searching across 21,000 square miles (54,000 square kilometers) of ocean “there is no sign of anything,” Rescue Coordination Center spokesman Ross Henderson said. “There has been no luck today, unfortunately.”

New Zealand air force spokesman Glenn Davis said the crew was taking a mandatory rest day in Vanuatu on Sunday, while search and rescue agencies in New Zealand and Fiji “reviewed the effort and determined whether to resume searching Monday.”

Squadron Leader Mike Pearson said the P-3K2 Orion crew had thoroughly searched the area, including small uninhabited islands. “If they had been in this area we would have seen them because the weather and sea conditions have been good so far,” Pearson said.

Henderson said Fiji was also sending officials to a number of small islands located north of Kiribati that are sparsely inhabited by indigenous tribes with no modern means of communications, to see if any of the crew had come to shore. The result of those missions were not yet known.

A Korean fishing crew found the deserted vessel—which had Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipino and Indonesian crew—drifting near Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands on Nov. 9.

Three life rafts and a rescue boat were missing from the Ta Ching 21—seen by searchers as a positive sign that the crew was able to abandon ship safely.

A U.S. air force C-130 Hercules aircraft searched the area on Nov. 12 without success and the New Zealand air force resumed the search operation Thursday.

Rescue and air force officials have made no comment on the possibility of the crew’s survival.

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