Burnt-out boat to be towed back to Taiwan

Last updated 13:07 25/11/2008

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A burnt-out Korean fishing boat is being towed to Taiwan after virtually all hope has been given up of finding its 29 crew alive.

The burnt-out wreck of the Tai Ching 21 was found off Kiribati on November 9 with no sign of the crew, three liferafts or a lifeboat.

A New Zealand Air Force Orion searched 34,000 square kilometres in the central Pacific north of Fiji but found nothing.

The air search was called off on Sunday but the Fiji Navy said the air force could be asked to send an Orion back to the search area if wreckage was found which indicated the men were alive.

Warrant Officer Anare Rasunusunu from the Fiji Navy said there was virtually no chance of finding the men alive.

Rescue authorities initially believed because the liferafts and lifeboat were missing from the Tai Ching 21, there was a chance the crew had abandoned the ship safely.

However, the alarm was not raised until November 9, when the wreck was found by another Korean fishing boat, several days after the captain last made a call to his company.

The ship was not smoking, indicating the fire had gone out several days earlier, said Mr Rasunusunu.

Mr Rasunusunu said the boat would be towed to Taiwan.

"From there they will make an assessment and investigation."

The air force said the liferafts would not be picked up by the Orion's radar.

Mr Rasunusunu said it was very difficult to predict the drift of the liferafts, particularly after they did not know how far and for how long the burnt out Tai Ching 21 had drifted.

He said the Tai Ching 21 did not send a mayday call and it was not known what food, water or survival gear was in the liferafts to keep the 29 men alive.

NZPA

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- NZPA

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