Report: Chinese Fishing Vessel Tried to Hit USCG Cutter off Galapagos
This summer, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC James carried out a long-distance patrol to help Ecuador police Chinese squid-jigging operators off the Galapagos Islands. International fisheries patrols are a routine duty for the Coast Guard, and this one initially appeared to be a relatively uneventful board-and-search operation. But new reporting from the AP suggests that this particular mission may have been more tense than described.
From late July through at least mid-September, James was patrolling off the Galapagos as a designated inspection vessel under the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) framework. The body's 16 members have a mutual boarding and inspection agreement, allowing each member state to examine other members' vessels and record any suspected violations.
The waters off the Galapagos are one of several seasonal destinations for China's distant-water squid fishing fleet, which operates in flotillas of hundreds of vessels each, aided by reefer ships for provisioning and offtake. James' mission was to establish a presence in the area and look for signs of illegal fishing, an all-too-common feature of China's distant-water fishing industry.
On August 3-4, the crew of the James conducted inspections of Chinese squid jiggers and reefer ships in the area. The timing was tense from a geopolitical perspective: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had visited Taiwan and met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on August 2, drawing angry denunciations from Beijing, which regards the independendly-governed island as an inherent part of Chinese territory. On August 4, China responded by launching 11 ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan, including one that passed directly over the island.
The encounter off the Galapagos was also tense, according to the AP. Some vessels allowed boarding teams aboard, but one group of four ships made an escape attempt. Three - including a Panamanian-flagged reefer - departed the scene. Meanwhile, the fourth ship turned on a course to ram the James, forcing the cutter to maneuver to avoid a collision.
The matter is reportedly under review in a multilateral proceeding, but multiple U.S. officials agreed to talk about the run-in with the AP on condition of anonymity.
Reports of illegal conduct involving Chinese distant-water fishing vessels can be found in Indonesia, the Philippines, Ecuador, Argentina, Somalia and many states along the coast of West Africa. Though shark finning and poaching inside other nations' EEZs are common, the illegality does not appear to be limited to the catch. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a majority of Chinese distant-water fishing crewmembers report physical abuse, debt bondage, excessive overtime and poor living conditions.