Making Piracy History

Feature story - February 28, 2006
Armed and masked, scouring the oceans, stealing food from hungry families – modern day pirates are a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood movies. But they are a multi billion-dollar reality for many communities that can least afford to be robbed. The Esperanza sets out to foil the pirates.

Illegal longliner with it's crew standing on deck wearing balaclavas to cover their identity, the crew are attempting to fish illegally in Southern Ocean.

After spending 70 days at sea confronting the whaling fleets in the Southern Ocean, the Esperanza is setting sail for the Atlantic - this time to expose the modern day pirates who steal fish from the poorest nations and leave a trail of environmental destruction in their wake.

Stolen fish, stolen futures

Could that fish on your dinner plate be stolen? On this next leg of our year-long expedition, we are working with the Environmental Justice Foundation. Together we are are demanding that governments close ports to ban pirates, deny them access to markets and prosecute the companies supporting them. In the Atlantic Ocean alone, pirate vessels cash in on the lucrative market for tuna, taking thousands of tons of fish, in complete contravention of international regulations. The fish are then transferred to refrigerated cargo ships, known as reefers, "laundered" through legal ports and sold on into the market. And it's not just tuna - the problem is in every ocean and with almost every type of fish.

Behind the mask

You can always spot the swashbuckling pirates of old movies and children's books - they fly the black "skull and crossbones" flag from their mast. But these days, pirates might fly no flag at all, and even if they do, it is quite possibly bought over the internet for as little as US$500. These flags represent countries which don't investigate the manner or scale of pirate fishing - or the working conditions of the people on board. 

A hidden crime

The impact on fish stocks is matched by the devastation of other marine life. Reeling out lines sometimes 100 km long with tens of thousands of baited hooks, the pirates also snare thousands of turtles, hundreds of thousands of seabirds and even more sharks - many of which are de-finned and thrown back into the sea to die a cruel death. 

A little less conversation, a little more action

Five years ago governments agreed an International Plan of Action on pirate fishing - but it seems not much has changed. The Esperanza sails to the Atlantic just days before the heroically-named High Seas Task Force meets to announce how it plans to further discuss the problem of pirate fishing. We plan to show them just how urgent the need for action is, and how much we need a task force defending our oceans.

Greenpeace and the Environmental Justice Foundation are working together to expose the pirate fishing fleets that operate without sanction across the globe. Together the international environment and human rights organisations are demanding that governments close ports to ban pirates, deny them access to markets and prosecute companies supporting them.

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