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Hijacked Taiwanese Tuna Longliner Used To Attack Other Vessels

A Taiwanese deep-sea fishing boat hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in April is still docked in Somalia but its crew is safe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman Henry Chen said Monday.

Chen made the remarks after the Taipei-based China Times daily reported that same day that the Win Far 161, a tuna longliner, has been used by Somali pirates to attack foreign merchant vessels and even to open fire upon U.S. military aircraft.

Moreover, the paper said, the 700-ton ship has been detained by the coast guard authorities of the Indian Ocean island state of Seychelles since Oct. 10 “The report is inaccurate,” Chen said. “Through contacts with the shipowner, the Fisheries Agency under Taiwan's Council of Agriculture and several international maritime trade organizations, we are pretty sure that the ship remains intact in a Somali port that is being closely monitored by naval vessels from many countries.” Chen further said the Taiwanese shipowner is still negotiating with Somali pirates over the amount of ransom needed to get the vessel back. “No progress has been made in this regard,” he added.

As to when a result can be achieved, Chen said the ministry is not in a position to speculate or predict because the shipowner prefers to maintain a low profile.

The Win Far 161 was hijacked near an island in the Seychelles April 6.

Of its 30-strong crew, the ship's skipper and first engineer are Taiwanese, while five other are Chinese, 17 are Filipinos and six are Indonesian.

Meanwhile, fishery executives in the southern port city of Kaohsiung -- the hub of Taiwan's deep sea fishing industry - said rampant piracy has affected the local tuna fishing operations in the Indian Ocean.

Edward C. C. Huang, general secretary of the Taiwan Deep Sea Tuna Long Line Boat Owners and Exporters Association, said that although there has been no convincing evidence proving that climate change in recent years has affected deep sea tuna fishing, piracy in the Indian Ocean has definitely hindered local longliners’ operations.

“About 150 Taiwan longliners embark from Kaohsiung for the Indian Ocean every year,” Huang said. “Concern about attacks by pirates has prevented our member boats from approaching certain waters, thus affecting their catches.” Asked about the extent of the influence, Huang said the association had yet to come up with comprehensive statistics.

He suggested that local fishing boats operating in the Indian Ocean should assign sailors to stand guard at bow and stern to warn about suspicious ships trying to close with their vessels.