International conservation group Sea Shepherd has teamed up with the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to carry out surveillance activities in Namibia`s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to deter illegal factory trawlers along the Skeleton Coast.
Sea Shepherd said MFMR compliance officials went aboard the vessel Ocean Warrior between 26 April and 15 June to patrol the Skeleton Coast, successfully deterring illegal trawlers.
The main objective of these joint patrols was to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Namibian waters, Sea Shepherd said. “These initiatives assisted the MFMR and other Namibian law enforcement agencies to force illegal and foreign industrial factory trawlers out of the Namibian EEZ suspected to have targeted horse mackerel stocks through IUU activities.”
Large foreign industrial factory trawlers – former Soviet Union made trawlers – have been ‘border hopping’, sneaking into Namibia’s EEZ at night, plundering fish, predominantly horse mackerel, off Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. These illegal incursions have been exacerbated by heavy fog and shipwrecks in the area thereby making detection difficult. The illegal catches were then trans-shipped to large refrigerated cargo vessels, also known as reefers, waiting to load the illegally caught fish just outside of Namibia’s EEZ. Refrigerated cargo vessels are a major contributor to IUU fishing as legal catch can be mixed with illegal catch, thereby making it impossible to verify the origin of catches. That is why the Namibian Marine Resources Act bans transhipment out at sea and only allows it to happen in port or in the presence of law enforcement officers, according to Sea Shepherd.
“As a result of these intrusions, the M/Y Ocean Warrior, under the command of Sea Shepherd Volunteer Admiral Giuseppe de Giorgi (Ret.), former Chief of Staff of the Italian Navy (2013-2016) started patrolling the northern waters of Namibia on 26 April under the direction of the Namibian Law Enforcement Officers (comprised of fisheries inspectors and police officers) to stop incursions by large foreign industrial factory trawlers that have been crossing the northern maritime border into Namibia to poach horse mackerel. The joint operation was named Operation Vanguard.
“On 26 April this Operation intercepted an illegal fishing vessel moving at trawling speed, 20 nautical miles south of the border between Angola and Namibia. On sighting the M/Y Ocean Warrior the illegal fishing vessel immediately changed course to escape apprehension. The M/Y Ocean Warrior came within 300 meters of the illegal fishing vessel, operating in close quarter situations in efforts to slow the larger vessel down. The unidentified fishing vessel had no discernible vessel markings, and unfortunately the illegal fishing vessel could not be boarded due to unfavorable weather conditions at the time.
“However, the confrontation and visibility of a patrolling presence off the Skeleton Coast by this joint operation caused a deterrence to fish poachers as no further incursions have occurred since the intercept, ensuring that the joint patrols have the intended deterrent effect that will allow horse mackerel stocks in the north of Namibia to recover from the fishing pressure of criminal operators.
“Namibia has one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, especially after the Namibian government significantly reduced the number of legally-licensed horse mackerel fishing vessels operating in Namibian waters. But illegal fishing has recently increased as formerly licensed fishing vessels have set up operations in other countries with the intent of poaching in the northern waters of Namibia,” Sea Shepherd said.
“While the Namibian government has taken conservation measures to protect the horse mackerel fishery – critical to the economy and the ecosystem health of Namibia – these conservation measures must also include at-sea patrols. With the Operation Vanguard concluded, criminal operators plundering Namibian waters off the Skeleton Coast have received the message that the Namibian government is vigilant in defending its fisheries,” said Bernhard Esau, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources upon briefing by the MFMR Director of Operations.
Since 2016, Sea Shepherd has been working in partnership with the governments of Gabon, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin and Tanzania to combat IUU fishing by providing the use of civilian offshore patrol vessels to African coastal states so that authorities can enforce fisheries regulations and conservation laws in their sovereign waters. To date, the partnerships have resulted in the arrest of 30 vessels involved in illegal fishing and other fisheries crimes.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources value this partnership in pursuance of rooting out IUU fishing in its EEZ and will continue to make use of such generosity by Sea Shepherd. Would be poachers will be dealt with in terms of the law and punishment will be severe, the Minister further indicated.
Last month Sea Shepherd announced that it had assisted authorities from the Republic of Gabon with the arrest of an illegal fishing trawler caught inside the Grand Sud du Gabon Aquatic Reserve. This came a week after the start of Operation Albacore IV, a joint operation between Sea Shepherd and the Gabonese government to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Central West Africa.
Armed Gabonese marines were able to quickly secure the Chinese-flagged Haixin 27 as it was detected crossing into Gabonese waters from neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC) while Gabonese fisheries enforcement officers uncovered that the fish hold was full despite the vessel carrying no fishing logbook. Although the Haixin 27 was not actively fishing at the time of apprehension, electronic evidence seized on board proves the Haixin 27 has a history of fishing illegally in Gabon.
The crew of the Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, handed over the Haixin 27 to a Gabonese Navy riverine patrol boat (RPB) and after a 24-hour transit, the trawler arrived in Port Gentil for the commencement of further investigations and legal proceedings.
“Through the close cooperation between Sea Shepherd and the government of Gabon, we can together stamp out illegal fishing and defend the wonderfully rich biodiversity of the Gulf of Guinea region. The arrest of the Haixin 27 sends a powerful message to all fishing vessels that illegal fishing will not be tolerated in Gabon,” said Madeleine Habib, captain of the Bob Barker.
Two years ago, two sister ships to the Haixin 27, the Haixin 23 and Haixin 28, both also flagged to China, were intercepted when five fishing vessels were observed by radar crossing the border between Gabon and ROC under the cover of darkness, with their fishing gear deployed and actively fishing. The other three trawlers escaped across the border into Congolese waters.
Two years ago, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared the creation of nine new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York, amounting to the largest network of marine protected areas in Africa.
Operation Albacore IV aims to continue defending Gabon’s newly-established marine protected areas, to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators, and to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures.