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Phuket officials charge captain of illegal Antarctic toothfish vessel

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Officials have charged the Peruvian captain of an illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing vessel for falsely reporting the cargo of his ship as he attempted to offload 182 tonnes of Antarctic toothfish illegally caught in the Southern Ocean.

The ship, which recently had its name changed from Kunlun to Taishan, had already fled from the navies of New Zealand and Australia, as well as global conservation organization Sea Shepherd, before passing through Indonesian waters and mooring near Phuket (story here).

The captain, Jose Alberto Zavaleta Salas, reported the cargo as 182 tonnes of grouper, valued at about 15 million baht. However, experts have confirmed that the ship had in fact offloaded 182 tonnes of Antarctic toothfish, valued at about 179mn baht.

Mr Salas has been charged for falsely reporting goods to customs, confirmed Royal Thai Customs Investigation and Suppression Bureau (ISB) team leader Charoen Chamniklang.

Mr Salas also faces charges for falsely reporting the ship’s flag and registration.

The handler that received the fish, South Services Co Ltd, has also been charged for its role in illegally importing the fish into Thailand.

Canadian environmental activist and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Franklin Watson posted his concerns on his Facebook page last Sunday that the Taishan and its crew would be merely pushed out of Thai waters without any legal action being taken against them.

“The Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia is reporting that a Thai government ship will escort what they describe as a ‘pirate’ ship to mile 201, where it will be freed and banned from returning to Thai
waters,” Mr Watson wrote.

“No fines. No arrests. And there is no information yet as to the location of the US$5.6mn cargo of 182 tonnes of toothfish; if it was returned to the Kunlun [now Taishan] or if it is off to market to restaurants and fish markets around the world.”

Speaking to the Phuket Gazette this morning, Mr Charoen was able to lay to rest some of Mr Watson’s concerns about the handling of the case, as he confirmed that Taishan would remain at the Phuket Deep Sea Port until at least the Thai investigation was complete.

“The vessel remains at the Phuket Deep Sea Port, and the fish product is being held at the Songkla Customs office while we continue our investigation,” Mr Charoen said.

“It will take time for us to conduct the investigation. Until we have sorted out and finalized everything, the boat will remain in Phuket. I have no idea for how long it will remain in our custody.”

Mr Watson additionally voiced his concern that no net or other fishing equipment was found on board the fishing vessel.

“One very worrying fact is that the Thais found no nets or fishing gear on board the Kunlan. These nets were seen on board by the New Zealand Navy two months before. It is assumed that the Kunlun threw the nets, which could exceed 100 kilometers, over the side prior to entering Thai waters. If so, this would mean that there is now a massive drifting ghost net causing ecological havoc in the Indian Ocean,” Mr Watson wrote.

Mr Charoen confirmed to the Gazette that the Marine Office, Fisheries Department and Customs Office were working together with Interpol regarding alleged crimes that occurred outside of Thai waters.

“Many of the alleged violations occurred outside of our jurisdiction. So we are expecting Interpol to take the lead in regards to seeking justice in those alleged crimes,” Mr Charoen said.

— Chutharat Plerin


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