23 November 2012, Palau– Greenpeace International is calling for immediate legal action against a Filipino ship that was previously engaging in an illegal transfer of fish on the high seas a week ago. The Filipino reefer, Sal 19, was found illegally transferring fish to Heng Xing 1, a Cambodian-flagged reefer, along with 2 Indonesian purse seine fishing vessels KM Starcki 10 and KM Starcki 11 on the high seas on November 14th. The Sal 19 is not authorised to operate in the area and is therefore not allowed to fish or transfer fish at sea according to the rules of the relevant management organization, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
Due to a major loophole in legislation for international waters, the four vessels engaged in the large-scale illegal transshipment evaded arrest last week. Today, Greenpeace’s ship MY Esperanza encountered the Sal 19 in Palau’s waters, and discovered its vessel name, port city and call sign had been erased from all visible parts of the ship, making it unidentifiable.
As a member of the WCPFC, the Philippines is legally obliged to take immediate steps to investigate and take appropriate enforcement action against this vessel. According to the Captain of the Sal 19, the vessel is expected to arrive in the Philippines port of General Santos on 28 November, just 3 days before the upcoming WCPFC meeting in Manila.
“Violations by fishing vessels such as Sal 19 show the difficulty in enforcing rules and justify calls by Pacific island nations to close Pacific Commons high seas pockets from all fishing. Pirate fishing not only undermines ocean management and conservation efforts, it is an embarrassment and diplomatic headache for their home countries. The Philippine government must clean up its messy tuna industry and become a responsible player,” said Farah Obaidullah, oceans campaigner from Greenpeace International.
Greenpeace International joined Palau’s marine enforcement official in boarding the vessel for inspection, and collected video and photo evidence showing a series of violations, including the absence of a vessel monitoring system, records and logbook. The captain of Sal 19 admitted to participating in the illegal transshipment when asked by Greenpeace. However, due to the existing loopholes in international law, Palau’s enforcement authority on board MY Esperanza could not take any further legal steps.
“Illegal activities are rampant in international waters around the world where laws and enforcement are at their weakest. To stop this, Greenpeace is calling for the closure of the Pacific Commons and a more comprehensive and legally binding global enforcement system for our oceans,” Obaidullah said.
Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans, including in four high seas areas known as the Pacific Commons (1), and for these to be declared off limits to fishing.
The environmental group is also seeking a ban on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) in purse seine fisheries and a 50% reduction in the catch of bigeye tuna.
These measures are important to keep valuable fish stocks at sustainable levels and will be reviewed at the upcoming meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Manila from 2-7 December.