Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson

GPS coordinates show the poaching  vessel Kunlun inside Australia's EEZGPS coordinates show the poaching
vessel Kunlun inside Australia's EEZ
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Jeff Wirth
This is an accurate description of yesterday’s interception by the Australian government of the toothfish-poaching vessel Kunlun:

They arrived.

They saw.

They observed.

They determined the ship Kunlun was in Australian territorial waters.

Therefore, they took action.

They boarded the Kunlin – and one-upped the Kiwis.

They found evidence of illegal fishing in Australian Antarctic territorial waters.

They saw a large supply of illegally caught toothfish.

They discovered the vessel was flying a false flag.

They determined it was an undocumented ship, illegally flying the flag of Equatorial Guinea and loaded with tons of fish caught in Australian Antarctic territorial waters.

So of course they let them go.

Say what

This is the same ship that the New Zealand Navy found last month, attempted to board. When they were refused permission to board, they left, allowing the poachers to continue their illegal fishing activities.

As in the case with New Zealand, the Kunlun was allowed to proceed because of the intervention of Australian politicians.

Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said that the boarding has “sent a strong message” to the poachers.

And what I wonder could that message possibly be? It appears to be, “Stop illegally taking our fish or else we will board you again, so there.”

The poaching vessel, Kunlun, crosses the bow  of the Sam SimonThe poaching vessel, Kunlun,
crosses the bow of the Sam Simon
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Jeff Wirth
Last month, the Sea Shepherd ship Sam Simon chased the Kunlun out of Australian Antarctic waters. With the poachers heading north, the opportunity to intercept them was handed to Australia.

When intercepted, the Kunlun was in the waters off the Cocos Islands, a territory in the Indian Ocean controlled by Australia.

Despite this, Senator Richard Colbeck, an outspoken critic of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish, declared that it would not be legal for Australia to arrest the ship.

After reviewing the media release from the Ministry for Immigration and Border Protection, it seems incredible that Colbeck would say that an arrest would not be legal:

Enforcement activity to protect the Southern Ocean

27 February 2015

The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture

The Australian Government has reinforced its commitment to protecting resources in the Southern Ocean with the interception and boarding of a fishing vessel believed to have been operating under a false flag and in defiance of international conventions.

(PW: We boarded them, which means we are committed to upholding international conservation law.)

Officers from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) boarded and searched the internationally listed illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessel Kunlun yesterday, after interdicting the vessel to the west of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The vessel was first detected near the islands by a maritime patrol aircraft, operating under the control of Border Protection Command (BPC). Once its location was confirmed, an ACBPS vessel, also operating under the control of BPC, intercepted and boarded the Kunlun.

(PW: They neglected to mention that Sea Shepherd had informed Australia that the vessel was headed north.)

In January 2015, the Kunlun was identified operating within Commonwealth Bay off the Antarctic coast. The purpose of the boarding was to investigate claims that the vessel was authorised by Equatorial Guinea to fish in the Southern Ocean. This area of waters is managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

In the course of the inspection of the vessel, ACBPS officers observed a significant quantity of frozen fish in storage.

(PW: New Zealand caught them and New Zealand documented the fishing. Therefore the evidence of illegal fishing by the Kunlun in Australian waters was well established.)

Information gathered in the course of the inspection will be used to conduct further inquiries in relation to the vessel's nationality, ownership and authority to fish in the region.

(PW: How many more bloody inquiries are needed? These ships are known poaching vessels and have been operating with impunity for a decade, raking in tens of millions of dollars. They have absolutely no authority to fish in Australian territorial waters or anywhere else in the Southern Ocean. This vessel is listed on the Interpol Purple list.)

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, said the boarding showed the Coalition Government's commitment to taking action to ensure that commercial fishing activity is authorised.

(PW: If this is considered “action,” no wonder nothing ever gets resolved by the Australian government.)

"This action should send a strong message that the Australian government is committed to ensuring all vessels operating in the Southern Ocean do so legally and are appropriately registered," Mr. Dutton said.

(PW: Ooohh, the poachers must be quaking in fear. “My God,” said Captain Fishnicker to his Mate, “the Aussies have threatened us with a strong message. Now get that net back in the water before they send us another ‘strong’ message.”)

"Our message to those who may seek to fish under false flags, or flags of convenience, is simple; we operate a range of assets in a range of locations, and we will continue to use these and the full extent of our powers to target you."

(PW: In other words, what assets we can spare from protecting Australian borders from homeless refugees we will dedicate – if we have the time, and when it becomes too embarrassing not to act – and will deploy them to board you again.”

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, said that unregulated fishing threatens the viability of fish stocks, and that Australia works with many other countries in seeking to eliminate it.

(PW: And they seem to be doing an absolutely amazing job of doing absolutely nothing about it.)

"The action taken yesterday demonstrates Australia's commitment to combatting unregulated fishing and to protecting the interests of those who fish within the internationally agreed rules", he said.

(PW: Australia’s commitment appears to be that of doing very little, very late, without any results. Considering the evidence, the documentation by Sea Shepherd and the New Zealand Navy, the fact that the ship was flying a false flag, was on the Interpol Purple list and was boarded in Australia waters, the question must be: why was this unflagged, unregistered, criminal operation not stopped and the vessel seized?)

Commenting to ABC News from the Bob Barker, Captain Peter Hammarstedt said, “I have no doubt that evidence will show that the Kunlun has been fishing illegally and that they would have intended to continue fishing illegally had it not been for action by the Australian Government. They have boarded the ship, now what we need to see is the Australian Government actually arresting the vessel. This is a ship that needs to be brought back to Australia for prosecution. Nothing short of actually arresting this ship will be an acceptable outcome in seeing them end their poaching career.

ABC’s Felicity Ogilvie reported that Senator Richard Colbeck says Australia can't arrest the crew but will be monitoring the boat from now on.

The Kunlun was allowed to proceed north with millions of dollars of illegally caught toothfish.

Only two days ago Senator Richard Colbeck was on the carpet because of a large donation of $320,000 from the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association. He has fiercely defended the fishing industry, and last month viciously attacked Sea Shepherd’s efforts to oppose illegal fishing in Australian territorial waters.

There seems to be a complicated, secretive and international web of deception involving a network of illegal fishing activities around the world. Poachers have received subsidies from governments. Poachers continue to fish with impunity while governments do very little. When poachers are caught, the fines are trivial.

Last year the poaching vessel Thunder was arrested in Malaysia and released with millions of dollars of illegally caught fish, after paying a relatively small fine of $90,000 Australian dollars.

Meanwhile, today marks the 72nd day that the Bob Barker has been pursuing the Thunder; it is the longest continuous pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history. The Sam Simon has successfully reported to authorities in Mauritius with 72 kilometers of gill net seized from the Thunder. An international investigation is underway. Sea Shepherd has the documentation and the evidence and Sea Shepherd has no intention of allowing the Thunder to escape.

The crew of the Bob Barker have observed and documented the Thunder destroying evidence by burning their nets and buoys. The two vessels continue to drift in a stand-off some 750 miles off the coast of Madagascar.

Read more: Sea Shepherd Commends Australian Boarding of Poaching Vessel: Now Calls For Arrest

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