Fishing boat caught with illegal 18-mile-long nets:

Gillnets are a threath to all life

'A risk to almost all marine life'

Vessel involved in gillnetting in Antarctic region had repeatedly avoided capture

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa

A fishing ship carrying 600 illegal nets stretching up to 18 miles has been seized after it escaped Chinese authorities, while using the flags of eight different countries to evade capture.

The vessel, STS-50, had targeted a cod species called Antarctic toothfish that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, according to Indonesia‘s fisheries ministry.

Its hundreds of gillnets had walls of fine mesh and could expand to a distance of 18 miles. Gillnetting has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a “huge risk to almost all marine life, including marine mammals due to [its] indiscriminate nature”.

The use of the nets also harm seabirds including endangered albatrosses, the country’s environment department said on its website in 2011.

Indonesia was acting on a request from Interpol when it seized the officially stateless craft. It had eluded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement.

Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement.

“Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” she said.

An Antarctic Toothfish [NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program]

The STS-50 had previously been detained by China, but escaped and was caught in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Ms Pudjiastuti said.

Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54m-long, 452-tonne vessel was built in 1985.

At the time of its capture, the STS-50 had 20 Indonesian and Russian crew, the ministry said. It was not immediately clear what would happen to them.

Navy deputy chief of staff Achmad Taufiqoerrochman was quoted in the statement as saying the Indonesian crew lacked travel documents and had been at sea for a long time without pay, indicating they may have been victims of trafficking.

Fishing for Antarctic toothfish is governed by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which forbids gillnet fishing and imposes strict rules on catches in the Southern Ocean.

“We want this to be an example for the world to not compromise with illegal fishing,” Ms Pudjiastuti said.

Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of foreign illegal fishing boats since 2014 in an effort to protect domestic fish stocks and fishermen.

In 2016, Indonesia assisted Interpol in the landmark capture of a giant Chinese-flagged vessel that had evaded Argentina’s navy and fled into international waters after it was suspected of illegal fishing there.

The same year, Indonesia sank a giant illegal toothfish fishing vessel that had operated under 12 different names and flown flags of at least eight different countries.


Related short video: Gillnetting, a destructive method of seafood fishing

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