Taipei, July 20 (CNA) The Taiwanese owner of a deep-sea fishing boat operating in the eastern Pacific Ocean has been unable to get in touch with its skipper since July 16, and he fears that it may have been hijacked. The owner of the 98-ton Te Hung Hsing No. 368, Chuang Ching-wan, said the last time he communicated with the ship was on July 15 when it was operating around 527 nautical miles northwest of French Polynesia. The captain reported that the fishing vessel was ready to continue operating in nearby waters the following day after receiving 7,200 liters of fuel from other ships, the boat's owner said Saturday. Chuang tried to contact the ship the following day, to no avail, and has not had any better luck since then, but according to the vessel's global positioning system, it has steadily been on the move over the past five days. Judging by the ship's westward course toward Indonesia along the equator, which is different from the course it would take were it heading back to Taiwan, Chuang suspected that the ship has been hijacked. Manning the Suao-registered deep-sea fishing boat were Taiwanese captain Chen Teh-sheng and chief engineer Ho Chang-lin and nine Indonesian crew, and Chuang suspects some of the crew in the possible hijacking. Though five of the Indonesians were veteran fishermen, the other four were hired just before the vessel set out from Nanfangao in January and were working on a fishing boat for the first time, Chuang said, suggesting that they were involved in whatever went wrong. The Suao Fishermen's Association said it has asked Taiwanese fishing ships operating near the Te Hung Hsing No. 368 to see if they can find out anything about the ship's situation. Helicopters from the United States and French government were able to take aerial pictures of the vessel but could not tell from the pictures if it had been hijacked, the association added. Chuang said he also considered the possibility that something may have happened to the vessel's skipper, who had a history of high blood pressure, but had there been a problem with his health the crew would have waived things at the helicopters to appeal for help. According to the association, a Coast Guard Administration ship that recently refueled in Fiji is around 2,000 nautical miles from the fishing vessel and should be able to catch up with it in about 10 days. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it also did not know what happened on the ship but confirmed that the vessel was on the move.
The ship's heading that it gave, however, was at odds with that provided by the vessel's owner. James Chou, deputy director general of the ministry's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the vessel was heading toward Kiribati, which is north-northwest of French Polynesia.
Chou said the ministry has alerted its embassy in the Pacific island country to try to make contact with the vessel. The fishing vessel was in the eastern Pacific to fish for sharks and swordfish. (By Angella Tsai, Worthy Shen and Lilian Wu)