Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

Fiji sea rescue, beheading claims: Navy call off search for missing fishing crew

The Fijian Navy have called off the search for five fishing boat crew members missing
after an alleged beheading at sea 12 days ago.

The Chinese-owned, Fiji-flagged tuna longliner FV TIRO II was found in high seas on Thursday last week by a New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion about 90 nautical miles west of Fiji, with two crew members still on board.

The pair told their rescuers six crewman had jumped overboard three days earlier – five entering the water without lifejackets and one using a life-raft.

A lone man wearing only shorts and with his arms wrapped tightly around himself was later rescued from a life-raft, but five remain missing.

Extensive aerial and on-water searches covered about 8000sq km before it was decided yesterday to suspend the search, the Republic of Fiji Navy wrote on Facebook last night.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” they wrote, noting the number of days that had passed since those missing went overboard, the weather conditions during that time and the distance from land.

“We will continue to advise ships in the area for any sightings and RFNS Savenaca is still operating out of the area of interest.”

Their team would continue to work with Fiji police and help them with “their investigations on circumstances surrounding this unfortunate case”.

Fijian police were this week still questioning rescued members of the crew and wouldn’t release any details regarding the circumstances or confirm the beheading of a crew member.

The Fiji Times reported last week local authorities were investigating claims of an alleged beheading on board TIRO II, whose crew were Chinese, Indonesian and Fijian nationals.

“We are aware of the allegations that a Fijian national had beheaded a second Fijian national following a heated argument”, Navy commander Captain Humphrey Tawake told the newspaper.

The rescued crew members were at the centre of police investigations, Fiji Times reporter Luke Rawalai told Morning Report.

“At the moment the situation is sketchy as police have not confirmed the beheading. At the moment it is all allegations.”

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