Greenpeace protests against US, Panama ships for plunder of Pacific tuna

Press release - 17 September, 2009
Pacific Ocean– Activists from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza today painted "Fueling Plunder" and "Tuna Plunder" on the hull of Panamanian-flagged tanker MV Fong Seong 888 in protest against its role in fueling the unabated fishing operations in pockets of Pacific international waters that are home to vulnerable tuna stocks. The Fong Seong 888 was caught providing fuel to MFV American Legacy, one of the latest additions to the US purse seine fleet in the region.

Greenpeace also uncovered that the two ships can be traced back to the same Taiwanese Chen family network of companies (1), though both fly different flags. Registering vessels under various so-called "flags of convenience" is a common practice in the shipping industry. (2)

The American Legacy was built in 2008, when scientists were already advising that the catch of tuna in the Pacific needed to be reduced. The vessel is one of four US-flagged purse seiners registered to Trans-Global Products, Inc, and built by Ching Fu Shipbuilding, the largest shipyard in Taiwan. All four of the tuna seiners fly a US flag, entitling them to fish in the waters of 16 Pacific countries under the agreement known as the US Treaty. (3)

Tankers like the Fong Seong 888 provide fuel and other supplies to purse seiners and longliners in the open ocean. In combination with the transfer of fish, known as transshipment, (4) this practice allows fishing vessels to remain at sea for extended periods. Together, refueling at sea and transshipment create a gateway for laundering illegally caught tuna out of the region. (5)

"Practices like this literally fuel the plunder of our oceans. To stop this we urgently need to close the four pockets of international waters in the Pacific to all fishing and ban the transfer of fish and fuel at sea," said Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner on board the Esperanza.

Purse seiners like the American Legacy normally fish for skipjack tuna but also catch large amounts of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Despite the calls for sharp reductions in the catch of these species the US has steadily increased its catches in recent years. Between 2007 and 2008 the US almost doubled the number of vessels fishing under its flag in the region. (6)

"Introducing all this extra capacity into the Pacific fisheries at a time when there is urgent need to cut fishing effort is incredibly irresponsible of the US and makes a mockery of their otherwise good conservation record in the region. Even more questionable is the Taiwanese industry links of these vessels and who actually benefits from these vessels," said Phil Kline, Greenpeace US Oceans Campaigner.  "When Taiwan, one of the largest shipyard in the world, is teamed up with the US, the flag state with the greatest access to the Pacific's tuna resources, what hope is there for the future of the region's tuna stocks?"

The Esperanza's "Defending Our Pacific" tour is part of an international campaign for clean and healthy oceans through the creation of a global network of marine reserves and effective enforcement of laws that protect ocean life. Greenpeace is monitoring the pockets of international waters that Pacific Island Countries want closed from all fishing activities in order to protect the declining tuna stocks.(7) The Pacific Tuna Commission has already agreed to close two of the areas to tuna purse seining from January 2010 onwards, but the areas are still vulnerable to overfishing.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves, covering 40 per cent of our oceans. They are essential to ensure clean and healthy oceans and protect marine life from overfishing and habitat destruction. Healthy oceans can also play a vital role in building resilience against the devastating effects of climate change.

Notes: (1) Reference to vessel ownership links:American Legacy  http://www.transglobalproducts.com/about2.htmlFong Seong 888 http://www.weelee.com.tw/oiltanker.htm

(2) According to the International Transport Workers Federation, a flag of convenience (FOC) ship is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership. While cheap registration fees, low or no taxes and freedom to employ cheap labour are often the motivating factors behind a shipowner's decision to 'flag out', when it comes to the fishing industry FOC vessels are also being deployed in order to artificially increase the fishing quota assigned to individual nations. the International Transport Workers Federation (2009) What are flags of convenience? http://www.itfglobal.org/flags-convenience/sub-page.cfm

(3) The “Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries Between Certain Governments of the Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America” (The US Treaty) enables US purse seine fishing vessels to fish in the waters of the 16 Pacific Island Parties which are: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu. http://www.ffa.int/taxonomy/term/441

(4) Transshipment at sea by purse seiners such as the American Legacy is not allowed in the WCPO.

(5) Globally US $9 billion a year is lost to pirate fishing. According to the Marine Resource Assessment Group (MRAG) and the University of British Columbia (2008) report “The global extent of illegal fishing” pirate fishing in the Pacific makes up an average of 36 per cent of the entire fish catch, which is much higher than the global average of 19 per cent.

(6) http://www.islandsbusiness.com/islands_business/index_dynamic/containerNameToReplace=MiddleMiddle/focusModuleID=18795/overideSkinName=issueArticle-full.tpl

(7) A map of these areas is available online at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/oceans/marine-reserves/pacific-tuna-need-marine-reserves

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