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Chinese language fishing captains face jail, massive fines for alleged unlawful fishing in Vanuatu

The captains of two Chinese language fishing vessels accused of illegal fishing and carrying driftnets in Vanuatu waters resist 5 years in jail and tens of millions of {dollars} in fines, however the ships’ proprietor insists the fees are baseless and “at no time were our vessels undertaking commercial fishing in Vanuatu waters”.

The 14 officers and crew of the Dong Gangxing 13 and Dong Gangxing 16 have been bailed on Tuesday after greater than a month in police custody. They’ve been positioned underneath home arrest at a resort in Port Vila and their passports confiscated.

The fishers have been intercepted in January close to Hiu island in Vanuatu’s northern waters and held in quarantine for 14 days earlier than being interrogated and charged.

All have been charged with offences underneath Vanuatu’s Fisheries Act, however solely the ship masters, Chen You and Yang Dachao, face imprisonment or fines.

Amongst a raft of costs, they’re accused of fishing illegally and possessing a driftnet.

The 2 ships have been intercepted close to Hiu island in Vanuatu’s northern waters. {Photograph}: Vanuatu Police

Unlawful fishing carries a most sentence of 5 years, and a nice of as much as VT1 billion (US$8.7m). Driftnet fishing is prohibited in Vanuatu. Merely possessing a driftnet attracts a penalty of as much as 5 years in jail and/or a nice of as much as VT500 million (US$4.4m).

Prosecutors have alleged each ships turned off their satellite tv for pc transponders whereas in Vanuatu waters, and argued all officers and crew needs to be remanded in custody as a result of they have been a threat of fleeing the nation.

Prosecutors instructed the court docket: “Important devices installed by the vessels were destroyed by the defendants: police had difficulty confiscating the devices since they were damaged,” however didn’t specify what these units have been.

Nevertheless, the ship’s proprietor, Mega East Ocean Fishing, stated the fees of unlawful fishing have been unjustified. Firm representatives have instructed the Guardian each ships’ holds have been empty after they have been seized.

In a press release to the Guardian, the corporate stated “at no time were our vessels undertaking commercial fishing in Vanuatu waters”.

“The vessel location was at all times displayed to authorities and the purpose of entry was in no way sinister and cloaked as projected by media outlets.”

The house owners additionally insist “the vessels’ location transponders were on at all times,” and that the ships have been crusing to Vanuatu to acquire permits to start fishing within the nation’s waters.

“As recently as the day of the regrettable arrest of the vessels, we, the operators, had been in touch with the Ministry to ensure the required entry paperwork was completed.”

Mega East Ocean Fishing signed a memorandum of understanding with the then minister liable for fisheries, Hosea Nevu in 2019, outlining numerous proposed developments, together with the development of a slipway and a processing plant, supplying as much as 20 vessels to fish in Vanuatu waters, in addition to fishing and processing of tuna and sea cucumber.

Each of its seized ships are registered with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Fee, and their proprietor says it has accomplished their registration course of with the Discussion board Fisheries Company. These are required earlier than a Vanuatu fishing licence might be granted.

Chinese language fishing fleets going additional, and fishing longer, throughout the Pacific, is a big and rising concern.

A report last year from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) discovered China had the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, with practically 17,000 vessels.

The ODI additionally discovered virtually 1,000 Chinese language vessels have been registered in different nations and that at the very least 183 vessels in its fleet have been suspected of involvement in unlawful, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The crew of a Chinese fishing boat detained by Palauan authorities on suspicion of illegally harvesting sea cucumber.
The crew of a Chinese language fishing boat detained by Palauan authorities on suspicion of illegally harvesting sea cucumber. {Photograph}: Equipped/The Guardian

An armada of Chinese language vessels simply off the Galápagos Islands – on the border of Ecuador’s territorial waters – logged 73,000 hours of fishing in a single month final 12 months, and in December, a Chinese language fishing vessel was intercepted and detained in Palau’s territorial waters for reportedly illegally harvesting sea cucumber.

In December, Chinese language overseas ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated China was “a responsible fishing country”, with “‘zero tolerance’ for violations of relevant laws and regulations committed by distant fishing vessels”.

“We have … strengthened international cooperation, and done a great deal of fruitful work in jointly combating illegal fishing and promoting the sustainable development of fishery resources with other countries.”

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