Palau burns Viet­namese boats found fish­ing il­le­gally


The tiny Pa­cific na­tion of Palau, fight­ing a ris­ing tide of il­le­gal fish­ing in its wa­ters, has set fire to four boats of Viet­namese caught poach­ing sea cu­cum­bers and other marine life in its wa­ters.

Palau’s pres­i­dent, Tommy Re­menge­sau Jr., said the boats were burned Fri­day morn­ing. He hopes to turn most of the is­land na­tion’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters into a na­tional marine sanc­tu­ary, ban­ning com­mer­cial fish­ing and ex­ports apart from limited ar­eas to be used by do­mes­tic fish­er­men and tourists.

“We wanted to send a very strong mes­sage. We will not tol­er­ate any more th­ese pi­rates who come and steal our re­sources,” Re­menge­sau said in a phone in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where he was vis­it­ing.

The coun­try cre­ated the world’s first shark sanc­tu­ary in 2009, but un­til re­cently had only one pa­trol boat to help pro­tect its great ham­mer­heads, leop­ard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fight­ing ex­tinc­tion.

The four boats de­stroyed Fri­day were among 15 Palau au­thor­i­ties have caught fish­ing il­le­gally in their wa­ters since last year with loads of sharks and shark fins, lob­sters, sea cu­cum­bers and reef fish. Sev­eral of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fish­ing gear, are due to carry 77 crew mem­bers of the boats back to Viet­nam.

Re­menge­sau said that the stream of poach­ers showed that just strip­ping the rogue boats of their nets and con­fis­cat­ing their catches was not enough

“I think it’s nec­es­sary to burn the boats,” he said.

Palau, about 970 kilo­me­ters east of the Philip­pines, is one of the world’s small­est coun­tries, its 20,000 peo­ple scat­tered across a trop­i­cal ar­chi­pel­ago of 250 is­lands that is con­sid­ered a bio­di­ver­sity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Is­lands South­ern La­goon was named a UNESCO World Her­itage site.

Driven by ris­ing de­mand from China and else­where in Asia, over­fish­ing threat­ens many species of fish. With 621,600 square kilo­me­ters of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, in­clud­ing its ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone, or EEZ, ex­tend­ing 320 kilo­me­ters from its coast­line, Palau is bat­tling to pre­vent poach­ing of its sea life by fish­er­men from across Southeast Asia.

De­spite progress in trac­ing sources of fish sold to con­sumers, about a fifth of the global mar­ket for marine prod­ucts caught and sold, or about US$23.5 bil­lion, is caught il­le­gally.

Ad­vances in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and ves­sel track­ing tech­nol­ogy have im­proved sur­veil­lance, but en­forc­ing re­stric­tions on unau­tho­rized fish­ing is costly and dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially given the many “pock­ets” of high seas in the area.

“There’s a lot of op­por­tu­nity for il­le­gal fish­ing and other transna­tional crime. It’s a chal­lenge,” said Seth Horstmeyer, cam­paigns direc­tor for The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts’ Global Ocean Le­gacy pro­gram. High seas pock­ets, be­yond the ju­ris­dic­tion of any gov­ern­ment, ac­count for nearly two-thirds of all ocean ar­eas.

From Palau to Ja­pan is a vast ex­panse of seas that no­body con­trols and no­body owns, ar­eas that serve as refuges for il­le­gal fish­ing ves­sels.

The Viet­namese fish­er­men tend to prowl shal­lows seas and reefs in search of sea cu­cum­bers and reef fish and then flee back into those deeper wa­ters to evade cap­ture, Horstmeyer said.

One way to counter that tac­tic is to cre­ate a “ge­ofence” us­ing ves­sel iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems that could trig­ger alerts when ves­sels cross into na­tional wa­ters.


In this photo taken Wed­nes­day, June 10, and re­leased by the Gov­ern­ment of the Repub­lic of Palau, Viet­namese fish­er­men gather near their fish­ing ships an­chored at the Marine Law En­force­ment Di­vi­sion Port in Koror, Palau af­ter be­ing caught fish­ing il­le­gally in the wa­ters of the coun­try.

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