TAIPEI (AFP): Taiwanese police have found the bodies of at least seven Vietnamese nationals at sea since last month, authorities said Thursday (March 30) while announcing the formation of a task force to probe suspected human smuggling.
The island's authorities and its representative office in Vietnam will assist Vietnamese relatives in identifying the deceased and will investigate "illegal boat operators and brokers", Taiwan's National Police Agency said.
It added that Taiwan's coast guard would assist in the probe.
Southeast Asia has long been a hub for human smugglers, with traffickers often taking passengers on perilous journeys through the South China Sea to a variety of destinations, including Australia, Cambodia and elsewhere.
Further north, in the East China Sea, fishing vessels have often capsized due to bad weather or other reasons in the waters between Taiwan and Japan.
In all, authorities said they had found at least 20 bodies at sea between Feb 18 and March 29.
At least four of the bodies were still being identified, the police agency said, while nine were confirmed to be Taiwanese who had fallen into the sea either accidentally or as a result of suicide.
There was no evidence suggesting that the Taiwanese deaths were connected to the Vietnamese bodies found at sea, the agency added.
"We will also work with relevant Vietnamese law enforcement agencies to continue to track down illegal smuggling rings in Vietnam," it said.