Unusual Vessel Behavior in the MH370 Search Area

Over the past month we’ve been watching an unusual Chinese fleet in a remote area of the Southern Indian Ocean. These vessels identify themselves as fishing but were not found in any public fishing registry and appear almost 500 miles distant from the nearest known fishing vessels.


This self-identified fishing fleet is currently operating in very close proximity to vessels searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). This fleet, with vessels broadcasting the name Fu Yuan Yu, has been in the general search area over the past month but today appears within several miles of the MH370 search vessel Havila Harmony.


We’ve shared vessel tracks of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet with members of several regional fisheries management organizations but so far no one has been able to confirm the activity of the fleet though all agree that the location is unusual for fishing vessels. We’d be very interested to hear from anyone who can confirm the identity of these vessels (Fu Yuan Yu 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76) and explain their activity in this unusual location.


Fu Yuan Yu Indian Ocean map background labeled 1-5.jpg
The three MH370 search vessels (small circles) are shown near to the Chinese Fu Yuan Yu Fleet. Vessels of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet identify themselves as fishing but this remote location is not a known fishing area. The nearest confirmed fishing vessels (light blue) are about 500 miles to the the north and to the west.


Havila Harmony 1-5 scale labeled.jpg
The MH370 search vessel Havila Harmony, flagged to Malaysia, currently appears surrounded by a Chinese fleet whose activity in the area is unclear. Fu Yuan Yu vessels identify themselves as fishing though this could not be confirmed by registry or port records. Each vessel appear to be trailed by a string of five or six points (red triangles), probably some sort of gear associated with the parent vessel.

 

Fu Yuan Yu vessels appear to make up a major global fishing fleet with over 120 vessels broadcasting with that name. Three Fu Yuan Yu vessels (numbers 013, 997,998) are currently authorized by the IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) to target tuna in the Indian Ocean. Since the Fu Yuan Yu vessels we are observing here are not registered with the IOTC they could not target tuna but it’s not clear that there is another likely target species. Normally vessel registry records, like those issued by the IOTC and other regional fisheries management organizations, would allow us to confirm a fishing vessel’s identity and get details on the vessel’s operation, such as the fishing gear they employ. However no such information has been found for the Fu Yuan Yu vessels appearing in the MH370 search area.
8 replies
  1. Michael Field says:

    The 997 and 998 are in the WCPFC registry as longliners. I wouldn't have thought they would be any good in search and salvage. As is now well known, China has built hundreds of these smaller ships for tuna – I imagine they are either watching the real operation, or they deploying some kind of special sonar. Michael Field

  2. Bjorn Bergman says:

    Yes we see quite a few Fu Yuan Yu vessels worldwide, 60 currently in the WCPFC registry. The puzzling thing is that these particular Fu Yuan Yu vessels (numbers 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76) do not appear in any public fishing registry. It is possible that the vessels recently changed names or were never fishing in an area requiring RFMO authorization.

  3. Bjorn Bergman says:

    Thanks for the link. I had a look and there are a separate series of Fu Yuan Yu vessels with an F before the number. So the Fu Yuan Yu F76 is a different vessel, a WCPFC registered fish carrier currently in the Pacific southeast of Hawaii.

  4. Pramod Ganapathiraju says:

    Hello Bjorn,
    One of the Sea Shepherd vessel "Steve Irwin" intercepted the vessel Fu Yuan Yu 073 (one of the six vessels mentioned in your blog), and retrieved one of the illegal driftnets. I think you should share your data with them to get a much clear picture. See "Shocking Footage of Illegal Fishing in the Indian Ocean" – Sea Shepherd youtube video.

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