Saturday, March 25, 2006

Australian Customs Puzzled Over 'Ghost Ship'

There was no sign of anyone aboard an 80m "ghost ship" found floating in Australian waters, Customs officials said. The tanker, Jian Seng, was about 180km south-west of Weipa in the Gulf of Carpentaria when Customs officers boarded it this morning. There was no sign of recent human activity aboard, nor any signs that it had been engaged in illegal fishing or people smuggling. "Tellingly, it has a parted tow line dangling off the front," a Customs spokesman said. "Based on a search of the vessel by our boarding team, Customs believes the vessel was under tow when it broke free and was subsequently abandoned." It is believed the ship has been adrift for at least a week. The spokesman said the vessel was identified as the Jian Seng through some material found on board.
"We haven't been able to find its port of registry or origin at this stage. "We did find a large quantity of rice on board and we believe the vessel was possibly being used to resupply fishing boats with food and fuel in waters outside the Australian exclusive economic zone, and it has drifted to its current position. "It appears to have been adrift for some time before we boarded it. The engines are inoperable and can't be restarted and it's drifting slowly southwards." The spokesman said Customs had no further interest in the vessel. However, the patrol boat Storm Bay would continue to monitor it until a decision was made about its future, in consultation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The Jian Seng is the second so-called ghost ship to enter Australia waters in recent years, the spokesman said. The other was the Taiwanese High Aim Six, which was found off the West Australian coast in 2003. No sign of the crew was ever found. The High Aim Six was scuttled in 2004 near Broome as a fishing reef.

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