Three fishing vessels have been detained in a covert operation between Sea Shepherd and the Liberian Ministry of National Defense to stop illegal fishing.
For the past three weeks, the marine conservation organization Sea Shepherd has been secretly patrolling the waters of the Republic of Liberia in West Africa in partnership with the Liberian Ministry of National Defense using Sea Shepherd’s vessel the Bob Barker.
The vessel has 20 crew under the command of Captain Fraser Hall on board as well as ten Liberian Coast Guard sailors with the authority to board, inspect and arrest ships violating Liberian law, two Israeli maritime advisors and conservationists providing training assistance.
Named Operation Sola Stella, the campaign has already resulted in the arrest of three illegally fishing vessels, currently in detention at the Liberian Coast Guard base in Monrovia.
Over 50 violations of Liberian laws and maritime regulations were discovered upon inspection of the three trawlers from Senegal, China and Ghana, including fishing without permits, operating without vessel documentation, fishing in restricted zones, systematic under-declared catch, attempted bribery of a Liberian Coast Guard officer and undocumented workers without passports living in unsanitary conditions.
The detained vessels are:
FV Hispasen 7, a 37-meter Spanish-owned trawler flagged to Senegal, boarded near the border with Cote d’Ivoire. Upon investigation, the vessel was found to be in violation of 26 laws and regulations, including an admission of transshipment for 20 ton of shrimp in the waters of Cote d’Ivoire. Transshipment is strictly prohibited under the Cote d’Ivoire Fisheries Code. Three of the crew were undocumented and without passports.
FV Shenghai 9, a 40-meter Chinese trawler, boarded off the port of Monrovia, Liberia. The vessel was found to be in violation of 22 laws and regulations. The master of the FV Shenghai 9 was unable to produce a single vessel document, such as a Certificate of Registry as required by Port State and Flag State, and could not explain why one of the Chinese nationals, for whom he had a passport, was missing.
Sanitation conditions on board the vessel were appalling, with Chinese nationals housed in air-conditioned cabins and the African crew, mostly Sierra Leone nationals, housed in a cockroach-infested tent on top of the wheelhouse, exposed to the elements. Investigations by the Ministry of National Defense have further uncovered systematic efforts by the owner of the FV Shenghai 9 to under-declare their landings with the criminal intent to avoid tax and customs in Liberia.
FV Lu Rong Yuan Yu 988, a 40-meter trawler flagged to Ghana, boarded near the border with Cote d’Ivoire. The vessel was apprehended while actively fishing without a license, as well as fishing within the six-nautical-mile Inshore Exclusion Zone reserved for Liberia’s subsistence, artisanal and semi-artisanal fishing sector, off-limits to trawlers. The Liberian Coast Guard supervised the release of the vessel's catch. The master offered the Liberian Coast Guard boarding officer an $8,000 bribe to release the vessel, a criminal act that was refused and subsequently reported.
Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to 40 percent of the fish caught in West African waters. The campaign aims to help Liberia crack down on unlicensed foreign industrial vessels operating in its waters and protect the six nautical miles closest to shore reserved for subsistence, artisanal and semi-artisanal fishing, which employs 33,000 Liberians.