Fishing out the Pirates of the Mediterranean

The story of the one that didn't get away (and the turtle that did!)

Feature story - 7 May, 2008
Just a few days into our three-month “Defending Our Mediterranean” tour, and already the Arctic Sunrise has come face-to-face with pirates. In the early hours of the morning, we confiscated almost two kilometres of illegal driftnet, containing dead, undersized bluefin tuna - and a small sea turtle.

Mediterranean Sea, Arctic Sunrise - crew of the Arctic Sunrise confiscate a length of illegal driftnet from the Italian fishing vessel Diomede II.

Moving through Greek Ionian waters towards Sicily, the ArcticSunrise passed a small drifting boat. Its crew had tried to stop their boatfrom being identified by covering its name and registration number; notsomething you’d think of doing unless you were obviously up to no good!

Fortunately for us, we never go anywherewithout a photographer with a camera and a high-poweredtelescopic lens! Confirming that it was the Italian fishing vessel Diomede II, we checked the EU’s databaseof fishing vessels; it is licensed only to fish within 15 miles (approximately 24 kilometres) of theSicilian coast, and then only with longline or anchored nets. The Diomede II was some 50 kilometresfrom the coast – and, with the seabed being 1500 metres down, we knew theycouldn’t be using anchored nets and could only be fishing with driftnets. So,the Arctic Sunrise’s crew set to work - and managed to haul in almost twokilometres of the driftnet.


Known as “walls of death”, driftnetscatch everything that crosses their path, including protectedspecies such as whales, dolphins and turtles. They’ve been banned for years bythe United Nations, the European Union, the International Conservation ofAtlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Of course, for bans to be effective they have to be enforced. Despite the European Commissionproposing laws to blacklist fishing vessels involved in illegal practices, Italy and other Member Statesare trying to water these down. Although the authorities confiscate hundreds ofkilometres of illegal driftnet every year, fleets from Italy and otherMediterranean countries are still fishing illegally. 

And the problem isn’t restricted to the Mediterranean. At the same time as the crew of the ArcticSunrise are busy Defending Our Mediterranean, on the other side of the worldthe crew of the Esperanza are busy Defending Our Pacific. They’ve been bearing witness and taking action against purse seine and longlinevessels. They’ve been doing their own bit of turtle rescuing, as well asfreeing lots of other marine life from inevitable death on the longlines. Andthey’re also finding that international laws are being regularly floutedbecause little is being done to enforce them. 

That’s why we’re calling for a globalnetwork of marine reserves, covering 40 percent of our seas and oceans,including the Mediterranean and the Pacific:

  • Marine reserves will close off high seas areas currently used as loopholes by pirate fishers;
  • Marine reserves are vital to ensure that fish stocks recover;
  • Marine reserves are essential to ensure that the fishing industry has a sustainable future;
  • Marine reserves will also protect our seas and oceans from the ravages of climate change and protect ocean life from habitat collapse and destruction.

We’ve followedthe Diomede II back home to itsharbour in Sicily, where it is being met by the coastguard – we’ve asked for the driftnets still onboard to be confiscated. Quite some homecoming for the pirates (though probably not the sort they were hoping for!).

And,in the meantime, while it was too late to do anything for the tuna trapped in the driftnet we confiscated, the baby turtle managed to make it out alive! So we’re happy to say that, somewhere in the Mediterranean,there’s at least one baby turtle who’s had the chance to head back home, too.

Updated, 8 May 2008: We're happy to report that the coastguard has confiscated the Diomede II's driftnets! It was a long day for the crew of the Arctic Sunrise - and they'll keep on going; fishing out the Pirates of the Mediterranean and denouncing, exposing and stopping illegal fishing.

Take action

If you want other baby turtles to have the chance to escape the driftnets and make it home, we need your help! And, if we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. Add your name to the call to protect the world's oceans.


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