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Last toothfish poaching vessel of ‘Bandit 6’ sunk



PHUKET: Authorities in Indonesia have sunk the last of the ‘Bandit 6’ toothfish-poaching vessels, the Viking.

Sea Shepherd representatives were on the ground to film the sinking of Viking, which marked the end of over a decade of toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean at the hands of the Bandit 6, and the conclusion of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish 2015-16.

“In a span of just 15 months, Sea Shepherd has cleaned up the Southern Ocean of illegal fishing. An issue that was largely thought to be unsolvable under current international legal instruments was confronted and dealt with using two direct-action, at-sea campaigns. Six of the most notorious and persistent poaching vessels on this planet are now out of commission, making this one of the biggest successes in marine conservation history,” said Captain Siddharth Chakravarty, the campaign leader for Operation Icefish 2015-16.

Prior to the sinking of the ship, authorities in Senegal detained the internationally wanted toothfish-poaching vessel, Kunlun, which slipped through the fingers of Phuket authorities after having been seized in March last year (story here).

The ship, which had recently changed its name from Kunlun to Taishan, was apprehended in Phuket after it falsely reported offloading 182 tonnes of illegally caught Patagonian toothfish, valued at 179 million baht, as 182 tonnes of grouper, valued at just 15mn baht (story here). However, after months of detention, the ship was able to flee the port it was moored at (story here).

Sea Shepherd first focused its attention on the illegal operations of the Bandit 6 toothfish vessels in 2014 when it launched Operation Icefish; the organization’s first campaign to target illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Southern Ocean.

In December 2014, Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker, under the command of Captain Peter Hammarstedt, and Sam Simon, under the command of Capt Chakravarty, departed Australia and New Zealand respectively to patrol the Southern Ocean for the Bandit 6.

The six, outlawed vessel had exploited loopholes in international law for over ten years, fishing illegally for vulnerable Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish in the shadowlands of Antarctica, outside the reach of traditional law enforcement.

Poaching of the species in the Antarctic is fueled by the high demand for the fish and legal limits on catches, which are put in place to ensure the sustainability of its populations. Toothfish, more commonly known at the dinner table as Chilean Sea Bass, are coveted by chefs throughout the world (story here).

Focusing on the supply end of the chain, rather than demand, the campaign saw the historical chase of the most notorious of the poaching vessels, Thunder, by Bob Barker, spawning international efforts that caused massive disruptions to the illegal toothfish trade.

On April 6, following the 110-day pursuit, Thunder was scuttled by its captain and two officers in the waters of Sao Tome and Principe, West Africa. Evidence provided by Sea Shepherd later led to the conviction of the three responsible, sentences of approximately three years in jail each and a fines of about 585 million baht.

In May, two more of the Bandit 6, the Songhua and Yongding, were apprehended in Cabo Verde, West Africa, thanks to intelligence provided to international law enforcement by Capt Hammarstedt. Later that same month, authorities in Malaysia detained the fourth of the Bandit 6 vessels, the Perlon.

Twelve months after the commencement of Operation Icefish, only two of the Bandit 6 vessels, Viking and Kunlun, remained at large.

In early February 2016, Sea Shepherd announced that authorities in Senegal had seized Kunlun. The vessel, which had been chased out of its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean by Capt Chakravarty and the crew of Sam Simon in early 2015, had been prevented from continuing its poaching operations since that time.

A week later, after tracking Viking to Southeast Asia, Capt Chakravarty notified officials in Indonesia of the suspected entry of the poaching vessel into Indonesian waters. On February 26, the Indonesian Navy announced that it had seized Viking.

Following two weeks of investigations, Indonesian authorities charged the Viking crew with fisheries crimes. The vessel was subsequently sunk in accordance with Indonesian law.

Viking‘s captain, Huan Venesa of Chile, and its crew of 10 from Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Myanmar and Peru, remain in detention in Indonesia.

“The success of the Operation Icefish campaigns would not have been possible without the backing of our supporters. Their unwavering support for our on-going mission to defend, conserve and protect the world’s oceans has made the abolition of the Bandit 6 from the Southern Ocean possible. To them, we extend our gratitude as they share with us in this massive victory,” Capt Hammarstedt said.


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