Fourteen bodies discovered by Sri Lanka Navy in a Chinese fishing boat that overturned in Sri Lankan waters

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24th May 2023 – (Colombo) The Sri Lankan Navy announced on Wednesday, 24th May, that 14 bodies were found inside a Chinese fishing boat that capsized last week with 39 crew members on board. The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 overturned on 16th May in Sri Lankan waters, with 17 Chinese, 17 Indonesians, and five Filipinos on board within Australia’s vast search-and-rescue region, 5,000km west of Perth. The discovery came a day after a preliminary probe by the Chinese transport ministry concluded that all those on board had died.

According to the Sri Lankan Navy, its divers had recovered two bodies and spotted 12 more on Tuesday, releasing photos showing the upturned red hull of the vessel and bodies being hauled out of the water. “Due to decomposition and the potential health hazards posed by operating in contaminated waters with limited protective gear, it was determined that retrieving those bodies would be exceedingly dangerous,” the navy said in a statement. It said that the locations of the 12 bodies inside the boat were mapped and handed to Chinese authorities. The nationalities of the located bodies were not immediately known.

Rescuers had trawled an area of around 64,000 sq km, and “did not find any sign of survivors,” according to the Chinese transport ministry. Rough weather held back rescue efforts, with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Canberra warning of “challenging” survival conditions. The fishing vessel’s distress beacon was first detected last week as Cyclone Fabian drove waves as high as 7m and winds as strong as 120kmh through the area.

The Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028 was owned by the Penglai Jinglu Fishery Company, one of China’s major state-run fishing firms. It was authorised to fish for neon flying squid and Pacific saury, according to the North Pacific Fisheries Commission. Penglai Jinglu Fishery also runs squid and tuna fishing operations in international waters, including the Indian Ocean and seas surrounding Latin America.

The vessel left Cape Town in South Africa on 5th May for Busan in South Korea, according to the Marine Traffic tracking website, which last located the vessel on 10th May southeast of Reunion, a tiny French island in the Indian Ocean. It is not yet clear what caused the vessel to capsize.

The Chinese embassy in Colombo expressed deep condolences to the families of the victims in a statement on Wednesday, urging local authorities to investigate the incident thoroughly and provide necessary assistance to the families of the victims. The embassy also said that it would work with the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure the bodies of the victims were treated with dignity and respect.