NGO Sea Shepherd has helped Gabonese authorities in the arrest of two Chinese fishing trawlers operating illegally, it said. Its success comes one week after it announced "operation albacore II", a joint project between Sea Shepherd and the Gabonese government to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in central west Africa.
The two IUU trawlers, Haixin 23 and Haixin 28, flagged to China, were intercepted when five fishing vessels were observed by radar crossing the border between the Republic of Gabon and the Republic of Congo under the cover of darkness, with their fishing gear deployed and actively fishing, said Sea Shepherd.
Armed Gabonese marines boarded and secured the two trawlers without injury or incident as fisheries enforcement officers inspected the vessels. The other three trawlers escaped across the border into Congolese waters.
Upon inspection, it was discovered that neither vessel was licensed to fish in Gabonese waters, and one of the trawlers did not even have a license to fish in Congolese waters.
After a 30-hour transit, the two vessels, escorted by the Bob Barker, have been handed over to local authorities in Port Gentil to commence further investigation and the necessary legal proceedings, said Sea Shepherd.
The two 45-meter-long trawlers, with crew made up of Chinese and Congolese nationals, are the first arrests undertaken as a part of operation albacore II.
In 2016 Sea Shepherd partnered with the government of Gabon for the first operation albacore campaign, resulting in over 40 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of three IUU Congolese fishing trawlers and one Spanish long-liner. Operation albacore re-commenced in 2017 with the arrival of the Bob Barker in Gabon on July 5.
The campaign aims to expand existing monitoring, control and surveillance measures; to detect and deter IUU fishing activity while also monitoring legal compliance by licensed fishing operators.
Throughout the 2017 tuna fishing season, Gabon authorities will be stationed on board the Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon's sovereign waters.