Fishing Fleet Caught in Dawn Raid by Sea Shepherd and East Timor National Police
12 September 2017, East Timor (Timor Leste), Southeast Asia – A joint operation conducted at dawn on 9 September by the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd Global and the East Timor Police resulted in the capture of a fish fleet targeting sharks.
Armed police aboard the Sea Shepherd’s vessel M/Y Ocean Warrior boarded the 15 fishing vessels which were at anchor off the coast of Com, East Timor.
After searching for the vessels for the past two weeks, the Ocean Warrior found them 150km south of East Timor, fishing with anchored gill nets set to target bottom-dwelling species such as sharks. Sea Shepherd documented the vessels retrieving their nets and the catch appeared to be 95 per cent sharks, as well as lots of broken coral.
The same fleet were documented in East Timor in February offloading massive quantities of sharks to a mothership, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. Though there was a public outcry, little to no action was taken.
The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 made international headlines last month when it was detained inside the Galápagos National Park with 300 tonnes of sharks which it had received from four longliners belonging to Hong Long Fisheries and Pingtan Marine Enterprises. The crew of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 are now in an Ecuadorian jail and the ship impounded, scheduled to be sold off.
The company who owns the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, Hong Long Fisheries, also owns the 15 vessels operating in East Timor, although Pingtan Marine Enterprises, listed on the US Nasdaq, have announced to their shareholders that they also own the 15 vessels and licenses operating in East Timor. The fishing companies have a complex, intertwined relationship, both based in Fuzhou, China and owned by the Zhou families. Pingtan was kicked out of Indonesia by Fisheries Minister Susi Prudjiastuti in 2014, and so far have not been allowed to return.
With public calls from people in East Timor claiming they have no way of knowing what the fleet are up to out of sight of land, Sea Shepherd decided to send the Ocean Warrior on a reconnaissance mission to gather and document evidence. This evidence was handed over to the authorities in a move to force the cancellation of future licenses.
'Unscrupulous foreign commercial fishing activities must be stopped in Timor Leste,' said East Timor’s former Prime Minister/President and Noble Peace Winner, Dr José Ramos-Horta. 'We must protect our natural resources, it is an outrage.'
Ocean Warrior is currently monitoring the fleet that is now at anchor near Vemasse on the north coast of East Timor awaiting refuelling. Sea Shepherd fears that the fleet will be allowed to escape again due to deals being struck with local officials. 'Sadly the good work of the PNTL and Sea Shepherd will be in vain and these ocean terrorists will dodge justice once more,' said a Sea Shepherd spokesman.
Sea Shepherd also found a second fleet of three vessels owned by Hong Dong Pelagic Fisheries fishing illegally in the same area. Although they had a license granted by East Timor, they were found deploying driftnets significantly bigger than the maximum allowed by international law. Sea Shepherd will be filing a full report of its findings to Interpol, CITES, IOTC and other relevant authorities.
Last year one of Sea Shepherd’s vessels came across six illegal drift-netters in the Indian Ocean and requested China’s assistance in bringing these privately-owned poaching operations to justice. China opened an investigation immediately and recalled the vessels for inspection. 'They found three of the six to have been illegally fishing, prosecuted the company, and cancelled the captains’ licenses,' says Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd. 'We hope that China will take the same stern action with these illegal vessels.'