Blowing Up Poaching Fishing Boats

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The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, fighting a rising tide of illegal fishing in its waters, has set fire to four boats of Vietnamese caught poaching sea cucumbers and other marine life in its waters. Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., said..he hopes to turn most of the island nation’s territorial waters into a national marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and exports apart from limited areas to be used by domestic fishermen and tourists. “We wanted to send a very strong message. We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources,” Remengesau said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Washington, D.C., where he was visiting.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fighting extinction.

The four boats destroyed  were among 15 Palau authorities have caught fishing illegally in their waters since 2014  with loads of sharks and shark fins, lobsters, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Several of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fishing gear, are due to carry 77 crew members of the boats back to Vietnam.  Remengesau said that the stream of poachers showed that just stripping the rogue boats of their nets and confiscating their catches was not enough”I think it’s necessary to burn the boats,” he said.

Palau, about 600 miles miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is considered a biodiversity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Driven by rising demand from China and elsewhere in Asia, overfishing threatens many species of fish. ..[A]bout a fifth of the global market for marine products caught and sold, or about $23.5 billion, is caught illegally.  Advances in telecommunications and vessel tracking technology have improved surveillance, but enforcing restrictions on unauthorized fishing is costly and difficult, especially given the many “pockets” of high seas in the area….From Palau to Japan is a vast expanse of seas that nobody controls and nobody owns, areas that serve as refuges for illegal fishing vessels.

One way to counter that tactic is to create a “geofence” using vessel identification systems that could trigger alerts when vessels cross into national waters.

Nearby Indonesia also is taking harsher action, recently blowing up and sinking 41 foreign fishing vessels from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, as a warning against poaching in the country’s waters.

In Hanoi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh recently told reporters the government was seeking to protect the rights of the fishermen. He urged other governments to “render humanitarian treatment toward the Vietnamese fishing trawlers and fishermen on the basis of international law as well as humanitarian treatment toward fishermen who were in trouble at sea.”  While burning and sinking such ships seems drastic, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has backed such moves, ruling that countries can be held liable for not taking necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated, so-called IUU, fishing operations by their vessels in the waters of other countries.

In a report on IUU fishing last year, the Indonesia government outlined a slew of tactics used by poachers, including fake use of Indonesian flags on foreign vessels, forgery of documents and use of bogus fishing vessels using duplicate names and registration numbers of legitimate ships.

Excerpts from Elaine KurtenbachPalau burns Vietnamese boats caught fishing illegally, Associated Press, June 12, 2015

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