At around 3pm yesterday afternoon the team on the bridge of the Esperanza spotted a vessel on the horizon. By 4pm we could see it was a Korean longliner, the Dong Won 117. There are two fisheries enforcement officials from the Pacific Island of Kiribati onboard with us, and we went out with them to check out the boat. Richella King, our web editor on board the Esperanza, reports on what happened next and the shady world of Dong Won Industries.
Campaigner Lagi Toribau and Kiribati Law Enforcement Officer Taremon Korere in discussion with Captain Park Si-Joeng of the suspect Korean longliner 'Dong Won 117'.
Although the Dong Won 117 is licensed to fish in Kiribati waters
theDong Won fleet is notorious for operating on the wrong side of
the law.Dong Won ships have been sighted acting illegally
throughout theEastern Pacific numerous times. We thought the ship
was worth a routineinspection.
The Dong Won 117 lived up to it's reputation on at least four
counts. First, in what is
becoming characteristic of legal ships in the Pacific,the Dong
Wong 117 has been reporting intermittently through it's
VesselMonitoring System (VMS). The system allows the Foreign
FisheriesAssociation (FFA) and individual countries to monitor
fishing ships inthe Pacific region. The FFA told the Dong Won
117's owners theirsystem was faulty, only last week. Because of
this she shouldhave headed straight to the nearest port to get it
fixed, and phoned toreport her position every day until she got
there. The Dong Won117 failed to do this, so there is no record of
where she has been.
Secondly,her last recorded port of call was Busan, Korea, 13
months ago. Typically Longliners can stay at sea for between 3 to 4
weeks beforethey need to resupply. Informal chat between our crew
and theirsshowed they had not been in port for a very long time -
the first andmost pressing bit of information needed was about who
won the World Cup!
Inorder to stay out at sea, the longliner must have been
resupplied by a'bunker' ship. Bunkering is only legal if the
supply ship islicensed and each transaction documented. Needless
to say theDong Won 117 hardly had any documents; the ones it did
showed it tohave bunkered with another boat with dodgy
Even moresuspicious than sporadic reporting and patchy paperwork
was the lack offish. If a longliner of Dong Won's size had been
fishing for 13consecutive months it should have run out of hold
space some timeago. Instead her 300 ton hold was barely more than
halffull. This suggests she was transhipping - offloading catch
atsea, a mostly illegal practice which fishing boats use to
avoidofficial monitoring or scrutiny of their hauls. Because it is
soeasy for ships to launder their catches this way, we are calling
for aglobal ban on transhippping anywhere other than in port.
Afterthe inspection we stayed with the Dong Won 117 through the
night,waiting for the Kiribati marine authorities' patrol boat
toarrive. Early in the morning the Dong Won 117 hauled in her
linesand made a break for the high seas. Orders to stop were
ignoredand she steamed off at high seas, very suspicious
TheDong Won 117 is owned by a large Korean corporation, Dong
WonIndustries. In addition to owning a fishing fleet Dong Won owns
distribution and logistics companies. Dong Won's stock price
islisted as a healthy US$54. Kirbati, in contrast, is a
nationwhose gross domestic product per person is a mere US$800.
DongWon has large ships, while Kirabati authorities have only one
boat topatrol their 3 million square miles of water.
One of the problems stems from the fact that Korea as a country
ispaying pathetic license fees. In 2004 Korea paid Kiribati
US$3.1million for 135 longliners to fish in Kiribati. That amounts
to aboutUS$23,000 per vessel, the equivalent of about 23 tons of
skipjacktuna. In the case of longliners they are after tuna with a
muchhigher value, so the amount of tuna they have to catch to earn
backtheir license fee is really a lot smaller. For Kiribati it is
ofcourse a lot of money, but for Korea and her businesses it is a
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