Taiwanese police have since mid-February found the bodies of at least seven Vietnamese nationals at sea, the island's authorities announced on Thursday, opening an investigation into alleged human trafficking.
Taiwan authorities and its representative office in Vietnam will help Vietnamese families identify the bodies and investigate the "
operators of these illegal boats and their intermediaries
", the Taiwanese National Police Agency said.
She added that the Taiwan Coast Guard would assist in the investigation.
Southeast Asia has long been a hub for human trafficking and victims end up on boats in the South China Sea.
Shipwrecks are common, especially in the waters between Taiwan and Japan.
In total, authorities on the autonomous island said they found at least 20 bodies at sea between February 18 and March 29.
At least four of them are being identified, police said, while nine were confirmed to be Taiwanese who fell overboard either accidentally or by suicide.
There is no indication that the deaths of Taiwanese nationals are linked to the bodies of Vietnamese found at sea, the agency added.
We will also work with relevant Vietnamese law enforcement agencies to continue to track illegal smuggling networks in Vietnam
,” the agency added.