Commentary by Captain of the Steve Irwin, Siddharth Chakravarty

HMNZS Otago (here seen in the Hauraki Gulf) has returned from Antarctica. (Photo: Creative Commons)HMNZS Otago (here seen in the Hauraki Gulf) has returned from Antarctica.
(Photo: Creative Commons)
For the second time this year, a New Zealand Defence Force's (NZDF) patrol vessel has returned from the Antarctic. The last patrol concluded in January when the HMNZS Wellington located, but was unable to board, the illegal fishing vessels Yongding, S onghua and Kunlun. The evidence that was collected by the patrol vessel in January has helped the Spanish government levy 17.4 million euro worth of fines on the operators of those illegal vessels.

This time the HMNZS Otago has come back just 17 days after the fishing season began in the Ross Sea, and with the fishing season expected to last for another two months, one hopes that the return is for a quick refueling and restocking before heading South again.

Eight licensed vessels were inspected during the patrol and apparently no Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activity was detected during the 17 days of this patrol. 

While this gives the impression that the NZDF is doing everything that it can in the Southern Ocean, the reality is very different. 

  • The headline claiming that the "NZDF Completes Southern Ocean Patrol" is misleading because the Ross Sea is just a small part of the Southern Ocean. It is also well documented that the illegal vessels have modified their operations for years now and fish in regions that are in the high seas of Antarctica, roughly 2000 nautical miles to the West of the Ross Sea. An effective patrol must include monitoring the shadowlands of Antarctica.
  • For years the governments of Australia and New Zealand have been claiming that the illegal vessels are under the status of "Unregulated", which gives them immunity from being boarded by the patrol vessels of the CCAMLR member countries. During the chase of the Thunder, it was evident that the illegal vessels forged their registries, falsified their paperwork and carried dual identities. All these acts make them Pirate vessels and therefore liable to be boarded by the patrol vessels, even in the high seas. An effective patrol must be backed with more political will and motivation. 
  • Captain of the Steve Irwin, Siddharth Chakravarty. Photo: Tim WattersCaptain of the Steve Irwin, Siddharth Chakravarty. Photo: Tim WattersThe Bob Barker chased the Thunder for 110 days. This was backed by evidence collection from the sinking ship and the testimonies in court, which helped put the officers in prison for three years and helped levy fines worth 15 million euro on the owners. An effective patrol must last longer than 17 days.

Because of these reasons, the illegal fishing vessels Yongding, Songhua and the Kunlun were all allowed to continue fishing in the presence of the HMNZS Wellington earlier this year. The catch of all three vessels was ultimately laundered into the markets and has vanished without a trace. 

If the New Zealand government is committed to spending taxpayer money to regulate Antarctica then it must do justice to this budget. It must adapt to the resilient crime syndicates and their operations. It must tackle illegality by being a step ahead of the poachers. It must expand its definition of illegality to include the illegal whaling operations of Japan. And it must dispatch the HMNZS Otago once again to the Southern Ocean for the remainder of the summer. 

Operation Icefish 2015-16
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