Pirate of the Pacific busted by Greenpeace

Feature story - May 12, 2008
We caught an illegal tuna purse seiner (Queen Evelyn 168) in the Pacific Commons yesterday. This Philippines-flagged vessel was close to the transfer of tuna between her sister vessel and a refrigerated mothership. It was likely that transfer of fish at sea, involving this illegal vessel, was about to occur. But upon our arrival the vessels immediately separated and fled.

Greenpeace activists from Fiji and Papua New Guinea stand on juvenile yellowfin and skipjack tuna in the hold of a vessel that was caught offloading fish from purse seiners in the Pacific Commons.

These motherships, known as 'reefers' are a gateway for laundering tuna out of the region. Fish transfer is known to happen in the Pacific Commons but it has never been documented before. This area is especially prone to pirate activities and tuna have disappeared unreported on motherships like this for years.

Activists from our ship, Esperanza, managed to catch up with the reefer and were given permission to board it by the Captain. They documented the contents of the hold that consisted predominantly of juvenile yellowfin and skipjack tuna. 

The Captain admitted to at least six other transfers of tuna he had done over the last month in the same pocket of international waters between Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia. These transfers alone added up to 675 tonnes of skipjack and yellowfin tuna onboard and were mainly from boats flagged to the Philippines belonging to the same company, TPS Marine Industries.

The illegal tuna purse seiner, Queen Evelyn 168 (background) next to the reefer (KenKen 888) and her sister vessel (foreground).

Globally US $9 billion a year is lost to pirate fishing and estimates in the Pacific range from US$134 million to US$400 million. These pirates earns four times more than Pacific Island states earn in access fees and licenses.

We can do two things to reduce piracy: ban the transfer of fishing catches at sea and create marine reserves in the Pacific Commons, off limits to all fishing.  This would close off a safe escape route currently open to pirates illegally fishing adjacent national waters.

Greenpeace has reported the illegal purse seiner to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and our ship, Esperanza, continues to defend the Pacific Commons. 

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