Typhoon Chaba: rescuers find bodies of 12 crewmen suspected to belong to engineering ship wrecked near Hong Kong

  • Massive operation launched by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities after engineering ship ‘Fujing001’ broke in half at the centre of the typhoon
  • Fourth crewman rescued earlier on Monday, but fate of 14 others remains unknown

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The engineering vessel broke into two amid rough seas on Saturday. Photo: Government Flying Service

Guangdong authorities have found the bodies of 12 suspected crewmen of an engineering vessel that broke in half at the centre of Typhoon Chaba, while a fourth seaman has been rescued, the state broadcaster has reported.

Rescuers found the bodies about 50 nautical miles southwest of where the “Fujing001” vessel sank in the South China Sea, CCTV said on Monday afternoon, citing the Guangdong Provincial Maritime Search and Rescue Centre. But 14 of the 30-strong crew remained missing.

Relevant departments were trying to verify the identities of the bodies, it said.

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The fourth crewman was rescued earlier in the day and was said to be in stable condition.

“A crew member of ‘Fujing001’ was rescued in the early morning of Monday and his vital signs remained stable. The search is still ongoing,” the broadcaster said.

The mainland-registered ship broke up after it was battered by 10-metre high waves and strong winds at the centre of Typhoon Chaba, which swept across the city on Saturday and triggered the first No 8 warning signal of the year.

The Government Flying Service said the expanded search area covered about 2,900 square nautical miles around the shipwreck.

Four crew members were rescued from rough seas after an engineering vessel broke from being pummelled by strong waves. Photo: Government Flying Service

Helicopter rescue pilot Li Ka-wing, who took part in the operation, said the search perimeter had been extended to the northeast of the scene of the sinking.

He explained a computer system was used to determine the search perimeter, but admitted calculations were difficult because of the ever-changing wind direction.

Li also pointed out that a wind farm – a group of wind turbines used to produce electricity – was close to the scene, which heightened the difficulties of approaching the vessel. “As our navigation system did not include the vessel’s location, we had no way of knowing how big the wind farm was and how tall the obstacles were,” he said.

“We had to slow down … We realised the wind turbines were 800 feet tall … We were flying through clouds and had to rely on radar to detect the obstacles before arriving at the scene.”

The status of the remaining 14 crew members is still unknown. Photo: Government Flying Service

The team, which had been coordinating with mainland authorities, had dispatched four fixed-wing aircraft, six helicopters and 36 rescuers to the scene by Sunday.

“I have never seen such a large-scale operation with so many helicopters,” Li said.

“When I left the scene, another helicopter would take over. When I was midway, the third one was already on its way. When I arrived at headquarters, I had to go again after a refuel.”

He added that the headwind was so strong that it increased travelling time and fuel consumption, leaving only 25 to 30 minutes for rescue operations at the scene.

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“At this moment, we are still dispatching helicopters to the scene. As frontline rescuers, we will not give up any chances,” Li told a radio show on Monday.

“It is not unprecedented that there are still survivors after such a long period of time.

“We will try our best and use all the resources we have to search for the remaining survivors.”

The news came a day after the mainland authorities slammed the lack of preparation for typhoons and demanded an investigation into the cause of the disaster, which happened 300km southwest of Hong Kong on Saturday.

A map from the Government Flying Service’s Instagram post showing the location of the distressed vessel. Photo: Handout

A joint rescue operation by Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service and Nanhai Rescue Bureau under the mainland’s Ministry of Transport was launched after the “Fujing001” hit problems.

Three crew members who held onto the rails of the stricken vessel were plucked to safety by a search and rescue helicopter from Hong Kong.

The Ministry of Emergency Management on the mainland said on Sunday that the accident had exposed “the weak links in typhoon safety management”.

“Lessons should be learned from the accident,” the ministry said, adding that vessels should return to the port and people should be back on the shore during typhoons to minimise the risk of similar disasters.

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Officials said: “A timely investigation should be carried out to identify the problems and those responsible should be held accountable according to the law and regulations.”

Mainland authorities previously said the ship was wrecked because its anchor chain had snapped.

Louis Szeto Ka-sing, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers’ mechanical, marine, naval architecture and chemical division, said he believed the strong wind and currents stretched the chain to breaking point, while the boat’s engine might have overheated and stopped working.

“As the wind and waves were against the ship, the anchor chain would be pulled tighter and tighter. If the main engine was able to push the ship forward against the wind, the chain would not have snapped,” he said.

“With the ship thrown up by huge waves, the main engine might not have been able to suck up water for cooling and it might have stalled.”

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