Suspected pirate flees Kiribati Authorities

Feature story - 5 October, 2006
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 reporting.

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 behaviour.

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 veryfavourable investment.

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