Today, the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker anchored in Tema, Ghana, concluding Sea Shepherd’s 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, Operation Icefish.
The campaign has drawn world-wide attention to the issue of poaching vulnerable Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish and has led the way for an unprecedented level of international cooperation in the fight against illegal fishing in the world’s oceans.
In early December 2014, two Sea Shepherd ships, the Bob Barker Captained by Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, and the Sam Simon, Captained by Sid Chakravarty of India, departed Australia and New Zealand respectively to patrol the Southern Ocean shadowlands. The ships were in search of the six remaining toothfish poaching vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” – known to operate illegally in the waters of Antarctica.
On December 17 2014, the Bob Barker intercepted the most notorious of the poaching vessels, the Interpol-wanted Thunder, on the Banzare Bank, Antarctica. In the four-and-a-half months that followed, the Sea Shepherd ship engaged in a world record-breaking pursuit of the poaching vessel, covering approximately 11,533 nautical miles, from the Southern, to the Indian and finally ending in the Atlantic Ocean.
On December 25 2014, the Sam Simon commenced a four week-long operation to remove 72 kilometres of illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. The confiscated gear was later handed over to local authorities in Mauritius, initiating the first ever investigation into a fishing vessel issued with an Interpol Purple Notice.
On February 2, the Sam Simon intercepted another two of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the Kunlun and the Yongding, in Australian waters west of the Ross Sea, and subsequently pursued the Kunlun out of its Southern Ocean hunting grounds.
In March, the Kunlun and another of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the Viking, both of which have been issued with Interpol Purple Notices, were detained by authorities in South East Asia. Investigations into their crimes are currently underway.
On Monday, in an unexpected turn of events, the Thunder was scuttled in the waters of Sao Tome and Principe off the West African coast, following 110 days of pursuit by the Bob Barker. Sea Shepherd believes that the sinking was an intentional act of sabotage by the ship’s captain and officers who were attempting to hide evidence of the vessel’s illegal fishing activity.
The Sea Shepherd ships were able to rescue the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who all disembarked to life rafts before the Thunder sank.
The Thunder’s crew was received by the Sam Simon, who delivered the rescued men to the Sao Tome and Principe coast guard later that evening. The crew of the Thunder have been detained in Sao Tome while investigation into the sinking of their vessel continue.
Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “As always, we measure our success by the numbers of lives we save. Through Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd has not only saved the lives of countless toothfish, but we have also succeeded in protecting the many other marine creatures that would otherwise have fallen prey to the indiscriminate killing of these illegal fishers. We have cost the poachers millions of dollars in lost profits and have sent a very clear message to those that remain – poaching will not be tolerated in the waters of Antarctica.”
Captain Hammarstedt will continue to liaise with Interpol to hand over the final pieces of evidence collected from the Thunder.