Taiwanese fishing boat mystery
The Hsiang Fu Chun and it\'s 49 crew are missing.

A Taiwanese ship carrying 49 crew has gone missing in the remote South Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands.

The Hsiang Fu Chun, a 700-tonne squid fishing vessel, lost contact with its owners soon after reporting that water was leaking on to the deck at around 3:00 a.m. on February 26. No mayday call was made and the vessel vanished from trace.

Its crew include a Taiwanese skipper and chief engineer, along with 11 Chinese, 21 Indonesians, 13 Filipino and two Vietnamese.

Taiwan launched a search-and-rescue effort immediately after losing contact with the vessel, and is appealing for assistance from Argentina and Britain as well as other ships in the area.

"We still don't know where the ship is and what happened to it," Huang Hong-yen, spokesman for the Fisheries Agency, told AFP.

He said there was no evidence the boat had sunk. The ship was equipped with a system that automatically issues a mayday signal when placed under a certain water pressure, but no such signal was sent, he added.

"We'll do everything we can even though the search is like searching for a needle in the ocean" he said, however Hong-yen did not explain why authorities have waited nearly two weeks before making the ship's disappearance public.

Some Taiwanese media have speculated that the vessel could have lost power and be adrift, or could have been hijacked by crew. Another official from the agency who asked not to be named said: "To be honest, the hope of finding the ship in that remote area is fading."

Hsiang Fu Chun, which was built 28 years ago, sailed off from Kaohsiung in January and was about 1,700 nautical miles off the coast of the Falkland Islands when it disappeared, according to satellite data.

The South Atlantic Ocean is a traditional fishing ground for Taiwanese vessels, attracting up to 100 squid boats from the island each year.

The Taiwanese fishing fleet caught around 200,000 tons of squid last year, mostly for domestic consumption, according to the Fisheries Agency.