The Spanish National Court has ordered the payment of 700,000 Euros to a Chinese company in compensation for a cargo of illegally-caught Patagonian toothfish that was seized in Vietnam last year from a vessel owned by a Spanish fishing syndicate. Two other fishing boats from the same owners are now preparing to set sail after more than two years in detention in the Cabo Verde port of Mindelo.
Marine conservation groups Oceana and Sea Shepherd are calling on the international community to immediately stop what they consider to be a gross miscarriage of justice.
A government paying for an illegal cargo
Last week, the Spanish National Court ruled that Vietnam authorities must transfer the value of the confiscated cargo of illicit toothfish unloaded by the Kunlun to the China-based company that purchased it. However, both Spain and The People’s Republic of China are contracting parties of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which establishes that their nationals cannot benefit economically from any Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Oceana and Sea Shepherd strongly urge the governments of Vietnam, Spain and China to immediately cooperate to prevent a payment that is clearly in contravention of international agreements.
“By ordering the payment of 700,000 Euros in compensation for a cargo of illegally-caught Patagonian toothfish, the Spanish National Court is sending the wrong signal to fishermen and the global fish market. There is no doubt that the confiscated fish was illegal since it lacked the documentation required to be traded legally. All international commitments to crack-down on IUU fishing are put at stake by the passive stance from Spanish and Chinese authorities. Instead Governments must stop illegal fishing now”, said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana Europe.
Black-listed vessels ready to operate this Austral summer
The Spanish court ruling comes just as two other black-listed vessels historically connected to the same Vidal syndicate are preparing to resume fishing operations. Subjects of Interpol Purple Notices -- an international alert of criminal activity – the two vessels formerly named Yongding and Songhua have been detained in the Republic of Cabo Verde off West Africa since Sea Shepherd alerted the Cabo Verde Judicial Police to their operations in 2015.
However, Oceana and Sea Shepherd have recently discovered that these vessels have been repainted, renamed and reflagged. Yongding has been renamed Atlantic Wind and is now flagged to the Republic of Tanzania, while the Songhua has been renamed Pescacisne 2 and has been reflagged to Chile.
“After having chased the Thunder in what became the longest maritime pursuit in history, I’ve come to know how these criminals operate,” said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd Global. “The vessels formerly known as Yongding and Songhua have taken on crew and fishing gear. It is readily apparent that these two vessels are being readied for sea to poach again, emboldened by the decision of the Spanish National Court to reward criminal behavior”,
Both Oceana and Sea Shepherd call on the government of Cabo Verde to not allow the vessels to proceed to sea and to deny them any sort of port support considering that both vessels are black-listed both under CCAMLR and under the International Commissions for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). They also call on the governments of Tanzania and Chile to de-flag the Atlantic Wind and the Pescacisne 2, respectively.
“It took more than two decades of hard work from environmental NGOs and certain governments to get the international community united in the fight against IUU fishing,” says Gustavsson. “Yongding, Songhua and Kunlun are icons of this fight. If the international community doesn’t stop them they will plunder the Antarctic again and again.”
Notes to the Editor
In 2016, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, the Guardia Civil (Spanish Police) and Interpol launched lightening raids of properties belonging to the Spain-based Vidal fishing conglomerate.
Thousands of documents and computer files were seized, six arrests were made, and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture successfully imposed fines up to 17.8 million Euros as well as a 25-year ban from fishing and receiving government fishing subsidies for Vidal companies conglomerate.
In parallel, the Spanish Prosecution Service launched a criminal case against shipowners for falsification of documents, money laundering, environmental crimes and criminal conspiracy. In the course of the investigation, an illicit cargo of 164 tons of presumably illegally-caught toothfish was also seized by Customs law enforcement agents in Vietnam at the request of the Guardia Civil through Interpol. The cargo was from an internationally-black listed, and Interpol-black listed fishing vessel named Kunlun. At the end of 2016, the Spanish Supreme Court dismissed the criminal case, albeit with one dissenting judge, stating Courts did not have the jurisdiction to rule on issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in High Seas areas, such as the Antarctic. Therefore, in the opinion of the Court no crimes connected to IUU fishing in the High Seas could be prosecuted under Spanish law, including documented money laundering.