Final outcome of illegal Driftnet vessels rests with the Chinese Authorities.
The 6 illegal fishing vessels of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet are now in China and the final investigation into their fisheries crimes is now in the hands of the Chinese authorities. Over the last 3 months, Sea Shepherd has provided the authorities with undeniable proof of this fleet’s engagement in illegal fishing with their operations violating 11 different International regulations and Chinese law.
Captain Siddharth Chakravarty with the illegal driftnets confiscated by Sea Shepherd during Operation Driftnet.
Sea Shepherd has offered to hand over the evidence in this case, comprising of 4 kilometres of driftnet, marking beacons, physical sightings, in addition to eye-witnesses, photographs and log-book entries, to the Chinese authorities. However, the offer has been turned down by the authorities who have instead decided to undertake a private investigation.
Campaign leader Siddharth Chakravarty said, “The evidence on board the Steve Irwin forms the most crucial part of the upcoming investigation. Given that the Chinese authorities are choosing to proceed without the evidence, I can only hope that the electronic submissions made to the authorities over the past 3 months have provided them with sufficient evidence to successfully conduct the investigation and find the perpetrators of these fisheries crimes guilty.”
Crew of the MV Steve Irwin haul in illegal driftnets confiscated as evidence during the campaign.
The presence of the fleet first appeared via a blog entry made by Skytruth, an organisation that maps fishing activity using satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS). The blog entry mentioned a fleet of vessels displaying unusual behaviour in the South Indian Ocean. The Steve Irwin acted on this information when it departed from Fremantle, Western Australia on the 18th of Janaury, 2016.
A week later, when the Steve Irwin intercepted the vessels, they turned out to be a fleet of 6 vessels fishing in the high seas of the South Indian Ocean. The “Rogue 6” vessels, registered to China, were determined to be using large-scale pelagic driftnets, a type of fishing gear banned by a United Nations moratorium in 1992. The crew of the Steve Irwin documented the activities of the vessels and confiscated a 4 kilometre section of their gear, in which the bodies of 321 animals were recorded. The catch comprised mainly of blue sharks but also numerous non-target species of smaller pelagic fish, critically endangered Bluefin tuna, dolphins and seals.
A common dolphin, found dead in one of the illegal driftnets.
Following the initial interaction with the fleet, Sea Shepherd began an intelligence gathering into the activities of the fleet. It was determined that the fleet of vessels was operating in the South Indian Ocean since September, 2015. Then in the middle of January, 2016 the fleet of Fu Yuan Yu vessels was met by a transhipping vessel, the Liao Chang Yu Yun 088, which transferred the illegal catch from the vessels before heading back to the port of Fuzhou, China.
After the first interception and evidence submission by Sea Shepherd, the AIS beacons of the vessels began to go dark from the 19th of February, 2016. However, one solitary beacon kept transmitting from the Fu Yuan Yu 076 which showed the fleet moving north before settling on the western edge of the Ninety East Ridge in the North Indian Ocean.
Fu Yuan Yu 071 with illegal driftnet fishing gear on board.
On the 13th of March, 2016, the Steve Irwin once again intercepted the fleet with the spotting of the Fu Yuan Yu 076. Over the next 19 days, the illegal fishing vessel was chased from the North Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits and into the South China Sea until she finally entered a port in the Fujian province of China. During the chase, the Steve Irwin documented the spoliation of evidence by the fishing vessel with the ultimate intention to destroy all proof of her active involvement in the use of banned driftnets.
The crew of the Steve Irwin maintained a vigil for three days outside the port of Zhuhai, where the Fu Yuan Yu 076 was seen entering on the 30th of March, 2016. The vessel has been reported to the Chinese authorities and is within their jurisdiction for further legal action.
Operation Driftnet succeeded in putting an end to an operation that ticked all the boxes as a classic case of a fisheries crime. With the conclusion of this campaign, Sea Shepherd has once again filled an enforcement void in the high seas by shutting down a fleet of 6 ships that were knowingly exploiting international loopholes.
Captain Siddharth Chakravarty said, “The primary aim of Operation Driftnet was to tackle the illegality of the Rogue 6 vessels. This goal was achieved by the disbanding of the fleet alongside documenting their illegality, confiscating their gear and chasing the vessels back to China. The campaign highlights the huge disconnect between where a fisheries crime is committed and how it is tried in a court of law. Proactive enforcement on the oceans is a key to bridge this disconnect in order to secure the future health of our oceans.”