CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – A Sao Tome and Principe court won a key victory against illegal fishing by organised syndicates on Monday when it convicted the captain of a vessel and two crew members on a number of charges, an Interpol official said.
Globally, illegal fishing cost at least an estimated $23 billion each year, with one in four fish thought to be caught illegally in Africa with its bountiful marine life.
Alistair McDonnell, a criminal intelligence officer at Interpol’s fisheries unit, told Reuters that the FV Thunder was part of a fleet of six ships identified as some of the ocean’s worst poachers.
“This is a great result for transnational organised crime (fighting) cooperation because these guys have been doing this for 10 to 15 years,” he said.
“We are cutting away at the model. We’ll attack the insurance, the availability of supplies and crew, attack the landing ports and the markets they use. It is death by a thousand cuts,” McDonnell said.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing contributed to the depletion of fish stocks, reduced the profitability of legally caught seafood and cut revenues for developing nations.
The FV Thunder, a Nigerian-flagged vessel considered one of the world’s worst illegal fishing ships, was pursued by Sea Shepherd environmental activists for 110 days from the Antarctic before it sank in April in the Gulf of Guinea.
McDonnell said the court in Sao Tome had convicted the captain, chief engineer and second engineer of the Thunder and sentenced them to custodial sentences as well as fines.
Documents seized from the Thunder were sent to Germany and sparked investigations across Europe, including companies in Spain where the ship’s owners are believed to be based.
The three crew faced charges of pollution, reckless driving, forgery and negligence.
Officials in Sao Tome could not be reached for comment.
Touching on the scale of the poaching involving FV Thunder and the other five ships, he said a cargo of toothfish could typically be worth between $3 million to $6 million, multiplied by two to three trips a year and six boats doing it.
“And they’ve been doing for more than a decade … We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia and Toby Chopra)
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