DAVID MARK: The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says it’s found a key ship responsible for illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean.
The Thunder is a Nigerian flagged ship that’s on an Interpol watch list for illegal fishing.
It was seized by Malaysian authorities while in port in May this year and found to have an illegal catch of Patagonian toothfish from the Southern Ocean onboard.
As Felicity Ogilvie reports, it’s unclear how the Thunder has ended up back in the Southern Ocean.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The Japanese whaling program is on hold this summer. So instead of trying to stop whaling the Sea Shepherd is out to stop illegal fishing.
The Southern Ocean is a fertile ground for the lucrative Patagonian toothfish and there are reports that six ships that don’t have licence to fish there are doing so illegally.
Late last night the captain of the Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker ship says they found one of the worst offenders, a Nigerian flagged ship called Thunder.
PETER HAMMARSTEDT: Good afternoon Thunder this is Bob Barker. You are fishing illegally, you are fishing illegally.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Peter Hammarstedt says he also told the captain of the Thunder the ship is under arrest.
PETER HAMMARSTEDT: The captain of the Thunder told me that he is not fishing, he is just passing through the area. We find that very hard to believe. We’ve seen them throwing fishing nets into the water. We are pursuing the vessel and we’ve told them that if they do resume their illegal fishing then we will physically shut them down.
FELICITY OGILVIE: And what will you do to physically shut down the fishing?
PETER HAMMARSTEDT: Well I have a 500 metre steel vessel at my helm and certainly that puts me in a very powerful negotiating position with his poaching boat. Certainly we’ll be able to block them in the very same way that we’ve been shutting down the Japanese whalers for the past 10 years.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The activist wants the Australian Government to intervene and detain the Thunder.Peter Hammarstedt says Australia could send a customs vessel to the Southern Ocean, or divert the Antarctic Division’s Icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, that is already in the area resupplying Casey station.
PETER HAMMARSTEDT: I have not heard back from law enforcement authorities in Australia yet. This vessel however was found about 300 miles away from Davis station, I think it’s likely that they’ve been fishing off Australian waters. They would have certainly had the criminal intent to fish in Australian waters and I’m certain that the Australian Government would be interested in seeing the fishing log of this vessel.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The Minister responsible for customs, Scott Morrison, has said in a statement that:
“The Australian Government does not support and is in no way associated with the activities of Sea Shepherd, and does not condone any dangerous or unlawful acts at sea.”
And “the Government calls for restraint, calm and respect for the law.”
The Minister did not say if Australia will be sending a ship to arrest the illegal fishing ship.
Just how the Thunder has ended up back in the Southern Ocean is a mystery.
In May the ship was seized by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency while in port. It was found that the ship had an illegal catch.
The Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson says the Thunder was supposed to still be impounded.
PETER WHISH-WILSON: I was very surprised that they found the Thunder. The Thunder was supposed to have been impounded in a Malaysian port last year in a joint operation with the Australian Government. If it hasn’t been and it’s been let go and it’s out fishing illegally again then this is a scandal.
FELICITY OGILVIE: PM’s tried contacting the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency for an explanation as to how the Thunder has ended up back in the Southern Ocean but so far there’s been no response.