A 30-boat fishing fleet casting nets in the South China Sea on Friday encountered storms and took refugee at Meiji Reef.

The fleet, including a 3,000-tonne lead boat carrying fresh water, fuel and other supplies, sailed 30 hours in rough weather to reach Meiji Reef by late Friday afternoon. It left Zhubi Reef — some 200 nautical miles away — Thursday noon.

Thick dark clouds have hovered in the sky since Thursday night and amid heavy rain, hale and huge waves which pounded the boats, throwing cups, food, computers to the floor, according to a Xinhua reporter on board.

Crew members were woken from their sleep. People who tried to stand were immediately thrown to the floor, the reporter said.

"At one point, the boat tilted more than 20 degrees. For a 3,000-tonne boat, that is extremely dangerous," said a duty captain on the lead boat.

He said the fleet would take refugee at the bay of Meiji Reef and look for fishery resources once the weather calmed.

Chinese fishermen are setting their eyes on the vast and largely untapped fishery resources in the South China Sea with a large fishing fleet that left port in the southern Hainan province more than a week ago.

China in June announced the setting up of a prefecture-level city — Sansha, which will administer 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands.

Hainan fishery officials have estimated that Sansha is home to fishery reserves of about 5 million tonnes of fish. Annual sea catches lower than 2 million tonnes will allow the local fishing industry to develop in a sustainable way. To date, fishermen catch only 80,000 tonnes of fish every year there, they added.

Hainan aims to shift the focus of its fishing industry from near-shore fishing to far offshore fishing. Fishermen are encouraged to "build big boats and explore the deep sea," Ding Xiuhong, a fishery official from Sanya city, previously said.
 

 
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