After chasing the notorious South Korean ship Premier for several days, a group of Greenpeace International activists entered Port Louis in Mauritius on Sunday morning, determined to take action against the Dongwon Industries-owned purse seiner.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza had arrived in Mauritius late on Saturday night and as the morning sun shone on a calm sea the next day, three inflatable boats were launched to carry the activists to the Premier, moored in the Mauritius port.
As soon as they arrived inside Port Louis, I radioed the fishing vessel to let them know about our action. Unsurprisingly, the line was silent, but the Premier's crew were not. As the activists started to paint on the side of the blue and white boat, the crew on the South Korean ship made it clear they were unhappy.
Amid shouts, a couple of the crew sprayed the activists with water hoses, but using shields to keep the water away, the activists continued to paint and soon the mission was accomplished. The word 'illegal' was emblazoned in Korean and English on the side of the ship accused of illegal fishing in West African waters.
It was all very fast – a quick, peaceful protest – by the activists who had come from all over the world to raise the alarm about the Premier and its illegal fishing operations.
During the 45 minutes the activists were in the port, I made contact with the Mauritian port authorities, explaining that our action was a peaceful and non-violent protest against illegal fishing in the region, and nothing against their country’s government.
Reinforcing our stance, the Mauritian Fisheries Minister had already given confirmation to Greenpeace that the Premier was not allowed to offload its illegal tuna in the port.
A few hours after our successful demonstration, the coast guard and several local officials boarded the Esperanza. Though very friendly, they criticised us for not properly asking permission to enter the port on our speedboats.
Despite this, the coast guard was positive about why we were here, in the Indian Ocean: investigating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, while promoting sustainable fisheries and equitable access to tuna for coastal states.
As the officials were leaving the Greenpeace ship, one turned to say, "We are doing the same as you. Goodbye and good luck."
This response is very important to the oceans campaign, as we want to work more with coastal states in order to improve how tuna is managed in the region.
Last year, officials from Mozambique and the Maldives joined us during the Rainbow Warrior tour in the Indian Ocean.
This time around, regional sentiment was echoed with an impromptu meeting at sea on the Esperanza with officials from Madagascar, Comorres, Mayotte and France. They spoke with me for over half an hour, expressing their concerns regarding a lack of resources and control, saying they wanted to work more closely with Greenpeace.
Overfishing and poor management of the Indian Ocean’s tuna fisheries cannot be solved without properly addressing the huge problem of illegal fishing. This can only be addressed at a regional level. So it is fitting that the annual Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting is set to take place in two weeks’ time in Mauritius.
Hopefully, our action against the Premier and lobbying in South Korea, complimented by our recent meetings at sea with regional officials, will reinforce how willing Greenpeace is to work with governments and organisations in the Indian Ocean.
Greenpeace will continue this campaign for sustainable tuna and against IUU fishing. There is no place in the Indian Ocean or any other ocean for illegally operating vessels like the Premier.
François Chartier, Greenpeace France Oceans Campaigner on board the Esperanza