Shark hunt: Sea Shep­herd ac­tivists bring Ti­mor-Leste po­lice to Chi­nese-owned boat

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Michael Slezak

The ocean ac­tivist group Sea Shep­herd says it has de­liv­ered armed Ti­mor-Leste po­lice on to a Chi­nese-owned fish­ing ves­sel in a dawn raid and is de­tain­ing the ves­sels for the po­lice af­ter it was found tar­get­ing sharks.

Fol­low­ing a two-week hunt for the Ping­tan Marine En­ter­prises fleet, the Sea Shep­herd boat M/Y Ocean War­rior found the ves­sels 150km south of Ti­mor-Leste, al­legedly fish­ing with gill nets an­chored to the bot­tom of the sea, which would sug­gest they were tar­get­ing bot­tomd­wellers such as sharks.

Cam­paign leader Garry Stokes, who is aboard the Ocean War­rior, said ear­lier footage taken by Sea Shep­herd, show­ing the fleet haul­ing nets full of sharks – some of which are pro­tected un­der in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions – was given to the po­lice, who then re­quested Sea Shep­herd help of­fi­cers board the ves­sels.

Early on the morn­ing of 9 Septem­ber, the po­lice boarded the boat and dis­cov­ered the haul, which ap­peared to con­sist al­most en­tirely of sharks.

Stokes said the li­cence given to the fleet was vague but po­lice be­lieved any shark fish­ing was il­le­gal un­der Ti­mor Leste law.

Shark fin is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy in Chi­nese cui­sine. Con­ser­va­tion­ists are con­cerned de­mand for it is fu­elling il­le­gal traf­fick­ing and driv­ing threat­ened species to ex­tinc­tion.

Stokes said he met with Jose Ramos Horta, the for­mer president and for­mer prime min­is­ter of Ti­mor Leste, who is ag­i­tat­ing for strong ac­tion to be taken against the crew.

Stokes said Sea Shep­herd was mon­i­tor­ing the fleet, mak­ing sure they did not flee. He said they ap­peared to start mov­ing overnight, but un­der the author­ity of the po­lice, the Ocean War­rior threat­ened to dam­age their com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment with a wa­ter can­non and they stopped.

In Au­gust, the same fleet was found with 300 tonnes of fish, mostly sharks in­clud­ing en­dan­gered ham­mer­head sharks, in the Gala­pa­gos na­tional park.

Stokes said Sea Shep­herd was track­ing two other ves­sels owned by an­other Chi­nese com­pany, which they had ob­served fish­ing with nets that were 10km long, de­spite 2.5km be­ing the max­i­mum al­lowed by in­ter­na­tional law.

He said Sea Shep­herd was in­creas­ingly work­ing with au­thor­i­ties in third world coun­tries, which did not have the re­sources to en­force pro­tec­tions in their oceans.

“They’re the ones get­ting their oceans pil­laged by for­eign ves­sels,” Stokes said. “It’s a new role for us the last cou­ple of years. We’re hop­ing to roll it out over the whole of south­east Asia.”

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