A search is underway for 39 people who remain missing more than 24 hours after a Chinese fishing boat capsized in the Indian Ocean. 

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the accident happened 4,600 kilometres north-west of Australia at about 3am on Tuesday.

The report said the crew included 17 people from China, 17 from Indonesia and five from the Philippines.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang have ordered Chinese diplomats abroad, and the agriculture and transportation ministries, to assist in the search for survivors.

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