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Possibly hijacked vessel shifts southwestwardly in Indonesian waters

2014/06/20 22:54:51

(Courtesy of the Coast Guard Administration)

Taipei, June 20 (CNA) A Taiwanese fishing boat believed to have been hijacked by its Indonesian crew was originally on its way to the Port of Sorong in the eastern Indonesian province of West Papua, but changed its course and continued in a southwest direction, Indonesian authorities said Friday.

As of noon Friday, information gathered by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Center showed that the fishing boat registered in Donggang in Taiwan's southernmost county of Pingtung was located about 20 nautical miles off the Sorong Port, where Indonesian police and immigration officers were on standby awaiting the arrival of the vessel.

However, the fishing boat did not continue heading toward the port and there were no signs showing it had attempted to reach the coast. Instead, it continued its southwestward journey, Taiwan's representative office in Indonesia said Friday evening.

Noting that most Indonesian crew members on Taiwanese fishing vessels came from Sulawesi or East Java, officials of Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries said that the crew members on the Pingtung-registered fishing boat therefore were unlikely to take risks landing on the coast of West Papua, a region they are unfamiliar with, but will likely steer the ship toward sea waters near their hometown.

Taiwan's representative office in Indonesia has asked the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Center and the Indonesian Maritime Security Coordinating Board to try to contact the boat through broadcasting. The office has also requested the relevant Indonesian authorities dispatch a ship to intercept the boat.

Rahmadi Sunoko, an official of Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, said Friday that he cannot confirm whether people on the Taiwanese fishing boat were safe or not because he was unable to get in touch with the boat.

Sunoko said that he has requested assistance from authorities in Sorong and Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, to find the vessel's whereabouts.

As of Friday morning, the boat was located within Indonesia's territorial waters, according to Lin Chin-hsi, the Taiwanese owner of the fishing boat.

Lin said that he placed several satellite phone calls to the skipper on Thursday, but nobody answered even though the calls went through, leading him to suspect a hijacking.

The vessel set out from Palau for the Solomon Islands seven days ago. It was operated by Taiwanese skipper Chen Chih-wen and 12 Indonesian crew members.

(By Jay Chou and Evelyn Kao)