Pirate vessel found in Suva harbour

Feature story - 24 October, 2006
UPDATED 29 October: The plot thickens! Here's a tip: When painting a new name on your blacklisted pirate fishing vessel, go someplace further than five minutes walking distance from a Greenpeace office.While on port watch duty, Greenpeace activist Josua Turaganivalu photographed a ship in Suva harbour going by the name of Mahkoia Abadi, but on closer inspection found it was really the Wen Teng No 688 - a known pirate fishing ship blacklisted under IATTC. Four days later, Josua noticed crew members painting a different name on the ship.

Crew of the fishing vessel changing its name from "Mahkoia Abadi". This ship is blacklisted by IATTC under the name, "Wen Teng No 688".

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The plot thickens on this suspect vessel berthed in Fiji's Suvaharbour. The ship came into the country under a Taiwanese flag andchanged to an Indonesian flag when it berthed at Suva. But, accordingto the Indonesian ambassador in Fiji, it is not an Indonesian ship. Theembassy is investigating and the ship is grounded until further notice.Says Greenpeace oceans campaigner, Nilesh Goundar, "Now that theIndonesian government has disclaimed the ship as one of its country'sfishing vessel, it is confirmation that it is a pirate ship."

Renaming, using false names, changing their flag state, and switching areas are all common tactics used by pirate fishing vessels to confuse authorities.

What's more, a second suspect fishing vessel, belonging to the same company, but not registered with the Fisheries Forum Agency, was docked next to the Wen Teng. Unregistered ships will sometimes fish anyway - transferring their catch to a registered ship, or a refrigerator ship, to avoid regulators.

Josua quickly notified the rest in the Greenpeace Suva office, we got the authorities involved, and the Wen Teng has been detained.

Rampant piracy

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is rampant in this part of the world. Our ship, the Esperanza has spent the past weeks working with local authorities in two Pacific Island countries to hunt for pirate fishing vessels.

Inspectors from the Federated States of Micronesia and Kiribati and Greenpeace boarded vessels that were consistently failing to report through their vessel monitoring systems (VMS). Some had almost certainly been transhipping at sea, making it impossible to monitor or regulate the size of their catch.

Greenpeace campaigner Lagi Toribau, said while onboard the Esperanza, "Foreign fishing fleets take advantage of the Pacific's lack of resources in order to run amok. Kiribati has just one small patrol boat to cover over three million square miles. Pirate vessels are cheating Pacific Island people of income and food."

The real problem

Pirate fishing aggravates overfishing, which in the Pacific has led to two key tuna stocks Bigeye and Yellowfin being in serious trouble. Unless drastic action is taken to reduce fishing effort they could face commercial extinction within three years.

Nilesh Goundar co-ordinated the Pacific Island's leg of Defending Our Oceans.  He emphasizes that it is time flag states make greater efforts to deter and prevent pirate fishing on high seas registered to their flag. According to Nilesh, "The Flag of Convenience (FOC) system is very inexpensive and often a deliberate means for fishing vessels on the high seas to evade the rules and make enormous profits.  The oceans are being plundered and we must defend it to the hilt."

Read more about what the Esperanza discovered inthe Pacific.