Fishing Vessel on the Run

Kunlun courtesy of Sea Shepherd

By MarEx 2015-09-10 08:58:11

Environmental organization Sea Shepherd has called on the Australian and New Zealand authorities and the relevant international enforcement agencies to ensure the missing Interpol Purple-listed toothfish-poaching vessel, Taishan, does not disappear after going on the run from Thailand.

The vessel has been under arrest in Phuket since March when it attempted to offload 182 tons of illegally caught Patagonian toothfish as grouper.

Since then, Thai authorities have used the country’s national laws to keep the Taishan in port. However, given the limited application of the law to international fisheries crimes, the vessel was subsequently reloaded with her catch and was kept at anchor for the past five months, says Sea Shepherd in a statement. “Citing the first possible opportunity, the vessel has eluded the local Thai authorities and escaped from custody on September 8.”

The organization warns that there is high risk that the illegal cargo of toothfish will be sold on the black market, and that the poaching vessel will now return to Antarctica.

“Reports that the catch of the Taishan’s sister vessels, the Yongding and the Songhua, have disappeared without a trace, indicate that enough loopholes exist for the illegal vessels to continue to operate once they are no longer under the surveillance of authorities.”

The Taishan, formerly called the Kunlun, was one of six internationally wanted toothfish poaching vessels targeted by Sea Shepherd in the organization’s Southern Ocean Defense Campaign, Operation Icefish.

The Kunlun has a long history of suspected fishing violations. The vessel had been the target of several international incidents and run-ins with authorities in the lead-up to its detention.

In January, the Kunlun was one of three illegal fishing boats which brazenly fished in the presence of the New Zealand Navy after they were found engaged in fishing using banned gillnets in Australian waters, in the Southern Ocean.

In February, the vessel was again intercepted inside Australian waters, this time by the Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon. The Sam Simon then engaged in an eight-day pursuit of the poaching vessel, chasing it out of its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean.

Later that same month, Australian Customs and Border Protection officers boarded the Kunlun in waters near the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in an attempt to gather evidence of illegal fishing activity. The officers did not detain the vessel.

Then in March, coordination between Sea Shepherd, international policing organization, Interpol, and law enforcement authorities in Thailand, Australia and New Zealand resulted in the Kunlun being detained in Phuket.

Captain Hammarstedt, Chairman of Sea Shepherd Australia, has criticized Australia and New Zealand for their poor handling of the matter.

“When we criticized Australia and New Zealand for not arresting the Kunlun at sea, authorities in those two countries assured the international community that the most effective tool in the fight against these poachers was port state controls. As the Taishan has now escaped from Thailand with its illegal catch in-tow, we are seeing this blunder for what it really is. If the vessel had been arrested by Australia or New Zealand, the catch would never have been returned. Instead, Australia and New Zealand’s unwillingness to arrest the Kunlun and seize is catch at sea has allowed this poaching operation to continue, and to profit from its crimes,” he said.

In recent months, Thailand has shown willingness to clean up its waters and drive out illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishers out. However, without support from its wealthier Pacific neighbors, it appears that their efforts might fall short, says Sea Shepherd.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.