TAIPEI: A rescue operation was under way after a knife fight broke out aboard a Taiwanese fishing vessel in the Indian Ocean, with one worker killed and several thrown overboard, Taiwan’s coast guard said Wednesday (Feb 20).
A nearby Taiwanese boat responded to the distress call and rescued four seamen from the waters 1,500 nautical miles northeast of Mauritius.
“Many of the crew members were forced off the ship, but we don’t know how many are in the waters,” a coast guard statement said.
Rescuers from the nearby vessel were prevented from boarding the distressed ship by a worker wielding a metal bar as a weapon, a government official said.
A Taiwanese fishing association said at least 10 people had been sighted in the water.
“We believe that the captain and his chief engineer are safe and have locked themselves inside the bridge,” said Chai Pao-hsin, manager of the Liu-chiu Fishermen’s Association.
Australia dispatched a military plane to assist the search, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.
The fight broke out in the early hours of Wednesday aboard the “Wen Peng”, a Taiwanese vessel manned with 21 Filipino and Indonesian workers.
One Filipino was killed and another critically wounded in the brawl.
The captain and chief engineer were both Taiwanese. Also on board was a Taiwanese government official.
Taiwan has one of the world’s biggest tuna fishing fleets in the world but a poor record in its treatment of migrant workers.
According to a report by environmental group Greenpeace in 2016, Taiwan’s fishing industry is “out of control” with rampant labour and human rights abuses toward foreign workers.
There are an estimated 160,000 migrant workers working on board Taiwanese fishing vessels, mostly from South East Asian countries of Philippines and Indonesia.
Taiwan’s coast guard said it was dispatching a rescue ship but warned it would take 13 days to arrive.
A Taiwanese fisheries department official said assistance was being sought from other ships in the area, after the nearby “Hong Fu 88” arrived at the scene earlier Wednesday.