Ocean FAD Articles > Sea Shepherd Concludes Operation Driftnet

Final outcome of illegal Driftnet vessels rests with the Chinese Authorities.
7 Apr 2016

Sea Shepherd has a mission statement to tackle fisheries crimes on the High Seas. In areas of the oceans, outside any enforceable laws, combatting illegality remains a significant challenge and the role and aim of our ships is to fill this enforcement void and tackle the illegality at the scene of the crime. We also collect evidence of the crime and work with state-actors and land-based law enforcement agencies to ensure that the perpetrators of the illegality are brought to justice in courts across the world.

Fu Yuan Yu 071 with illegal driftnet fishing gear on board

The presence of the fleet first appeared via a blog entry made by Skytruth, an organisation that maps fishing activity using satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS). The blog entry mentioned a fleet of vessels displaying unusual behaviour in the South Indian Ocean. The Steve Irwin acted on this information when it departed from Fremantle, Western Australia on the 18th of Janaury, 2016.

A week later, when the Steve Irwin intercepted the vessels, they turned out to be a fleet of 6 vessels fishing in the high seas of the South Indian Ocean. The “Rogue 6” vessels, registered to China, were determined to be using large-scale pelagic driftnets, a type of fishing gear banned by a United Nations moratorium in 1992. The crew of the Steve Irwin documented the activities of the vessels and confiscated a 4 kilometre section of their gear, in which the bodies of 321 animals were recorded. The catch comprised mainly of blue sharks but also numerous non-target species of smaller pelagic fish, critically endangered Bluefin tuna, dolphins and seals.

A large amount of small sharks and other pelagic fish were found dead in the illegal driftnets of the Fu Yuan Yu Fleet.

Following the initial interaction with the fleet, Sea Shepherd began an intelligence gathering into the activities of the fleet. It was determined that the fleet of vessels was operating in the South Indian Ocean since September, 2015. Then in the middle of January, 2016 the fleet of Fu Yuan Yu vessels was met by a transhipping vessel, the Liao Chang Yu Yun 088, which transferred the illegal catch from the vessels before heading back to the port of Fuzhou, China.

After the first interception and evidence submission by Sea Shepherd, the AIS beacons of the vessels began to go dark from the 19th of February, 2016. However, one solitary beacon kept transmitting from the Fu Yuan Yu 076 which showed the fleet moving north before settling on the western edge of the Ninety East Ridge in the North Indian Ocean.

A brown seal, retrieved dead from the illegal nets. Photo: Eliza Muirhead

On the 13th of March, 2016, the Steve Irwin once again intercepted the fleet with the spotting of the Fu Yuan Yu 076. Over the next 19 days, the illegal fishing vessel was chased from the North Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits and into the South China Sea until she finally entered a port in the Fujian province of China. During the chase, the Steve Irwin documented the spoliation of evidence by the fishing vessel with the ultimate intention to destroy all proof of her active involvement in the use of banned driftnets.
The crew of the Steve Irwin maintained a vigil for three days outside the port of Zhuhai, where the Fu Yuan Yu 076 was seen entering on the 30th of March, 2016. The vessel has been reported to the Chinese authorities and is within their jurisdiction for further legal action.

Capt. Chakravarty with some of the many animals slaughtered in the illegal driftnet. Photo: Tim Watters

Operation Driftnet succeeded in putting an end to an operation that ticked all the boxes as a classic case of a fisheries crime. With the conclusion of this campaign, Sea Shepherd has once again filled an enforcement void in the high seas by shutting down a fleet of 6 ships that were knowingly exploiting international loopholes.

Captain Siddharth Chakravarty with the illegal driftnets confiscated by Sea Shepherd during Operation Driftnet.

Captain Siddharth Chakravarty said, “The primary aim of Operation Driftnet was to tackle the illegality of the Rogue 6 vessels. This goal was achieved by the disbanding of the fleet alongside documenting their illegality, confiscating their gear and chasing the vessels back to China. The campaign highlights the huge disconnect between where a fisheries crime is committed and how it is tried in a court of law. Proactive enforcement on the oceans is a key to bridge this disconnect in order to secure the future health of our oceans.”

 

 

Today, everyone on board the STEVE IRWIN is at peace and has smiles on their faces. The FU YUAN YU fleet has been disbanded and no driftnets remain deployed in the oceans by this fleet. 

In doing so, we have saved the lives of an estimated 100,000 sharks and an equal number of animals from other species. The primary aim of Operation Driftnet has been met- illegality on the oceans has been confronted and a "Rogue 6" have been shut down. The oceans, today, have 6 less vessels plundering them. 

Currently, the STEVE IRWIN is en route to Australia having covered over 20,000 kilometers since that day in January when we spotted the FU YUAN YU fleet of vessels. As a group of 30 people, committed to ending illegality on our oceans, our job is done. And to the people from across the world, committed to supporting the actions of Sea Shepherd, we thank you. The last 16 months of your support have shut down the Bandit 6 fleet of toothfish poachers and Rogue 6 fleet of drift-netters. 

Crew of the Steve Irwin hauls the abandoned driftnet out of the ocean. Photo: Eliza Muirhead

Sea Shepherd has offered to hand over the evidence in this case, comprising of 4 kilometres of driftnet, marking beacons, physical sightings, in addition to eye-witnesses, photographs and log-book entries, to the Chinese authorities. However, the offer has been turned down by the authorities who have instead decided to undertake a private investigation.

Campaign leader Siddharth Chakravarty said, “The evidence on board the Steve Irwin forms the most crucial part of the upcoming investigation. Given that the Chinese authorities are choosing to proceed without the evidence, I can only hope that the electronic submissions made to the authorities over the past 3 months have provided them with sufficient evidence to successfully conduct the investigation and find the perpetrators of these fisheries crimes guilty.”

You can watch a video of operation driftnet by going to:

https://youtu.be/IM6xhglkgxs

Many thanks to you Sea Shepherd!!! YOU ROCK ON !! 

To all the peaple who suport Sea Shepherd & the mighty crew aboard their vessels, RESPECT !!

 

 

Michelle Mossfield