TAIPEI: Taiwan’s coastguard has rescued three Filipino fishermen who spent five days adrift when a storm blew their small boat hundreds of kilometres off course, officials said Monday.

The three were found Sunday 37 nautical miles (69 kilometres) south of Taiwan, the coastguard said. They were healthy even though they had to subsist on seaweed and drink rain while drifting in rough seas. They men were slightly dehydrated but otherwise “in good shape”, Hung Kuo-hsing, a senior coastguard official, told AFP.

The three said they set sail from Santa Ana, at the northeastern tip of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon, on July 15 but were blown off course by Tropical Storm Cimaron last week. They told the coastguard they feared another Filipino sampan might have been hit by the storm, prompting a joint search by Taiwan’s coastguard and an airborne rescue unit.

The incident follows a major diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines over the fatal shooting on May 9 of a Taiwanese fisherman near a Philippine island that Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.–AFP

The 65-year-old was killed when Philippine coastguards opened fire on the vessel he was crewing with his son and two others.

Taipei and Manila in June reached an agreement pledging not to use force in fishing disputes.

But Manila has yet to respond to Taiwan’s demands, among them that criminal charges be filed against the coastguards involved.