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M/Y Steve Irwin

Sea Shepherd’s flagship vessel the M/Y Steve Irwin has conducted multiple campaigns in defense of the world’s oceans, from protecting pilot whales in the Faroes, blue fin tuna in the Mediterranean, and humpback whales off the Kimberley coast, to shutting down six illegal Chinese drift-netters in the South Indian Ocean, and six illegal tooth fish poachers in the Southern Ocean.

Not least, it has conducted nine Antarctic whale defence campaigns in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary helping save over 6,000 whales from the illegal Japanese whaling fleet. The Steve Irwin has safeguarded one of the last large intact marine ecosystems on the planet in the Great Australian Bight (knocking out BP and Chevron), most recently visiting the Great Barrier Reef in opposition of the Adani coal mine.

Prior to Sea Shepherd obtaining the M/Y Steve Irwin, it served as a Scottish fisheries patrol vessel, built in 1975. So, in essence, the Steve has been defending marine wildlife its whole life. Sea Shepherd has always taken great pride and appreciation in getting permission from the Irwin family to rename our ship the Steve Irwin back in 2007, in continuing the legacy and honoring Australia’s great wildlife warrior.

Sadly, our Steve is at the end of its life and we need to retire the vessel. We have reached out to many organisations and governments to look at options such as turning the Steve into a dive site or donating it to a maritime museum.  However, with none of these options eventuating or being practical, the Steve Irwin will be recycled. 

Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson, stated: “On December 7, 2007, Teri Irwin and I launched the M/V Steve Irwin, a vessel that would be our flagship for the next decade. It has been my honor to have been captain of this vessel for so many successful high seas campaigns. The lives we have saved and the difference we have made with this vessel has been awesome. We worked the ship hard, through horrific storms and crushing ice and after eleven years, our engineers have determined that the Steve Irwin is no longer safe for sea.

"It is simply not wise to risk the lives of our crew beyond the boundaries of practicality. Despite the many risks we have taken over the years we have learned when to hold a ship and when to retire a ship and regrettably the time to retire the Steve Irwin is now. Battle scarred and damaged, regrettably she must be retired, but the memories, the campaign victories and the lives saved will be the lasting legacy of a ship that was as valiant and courageous as her namesake."

Captain Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, stated: “I will always remember the first voyage of the Steve Irwin (called the Robert Hunter at that time), after having found the vessel in Rosyth, Scotland we prepared the ship for active service in Neptune’s Navy. We sailed down the Atlantic and through the Straights of Magellan to the first Antarctic anti-whaling campaign in which we had a speed advantage over the whalers. The Steve Irwin was the game changer and stood at the base of Sea Shepherd’s following Antarctic campaigns, saving over 6,000 whales."

Jeff Hansen, Managing Director, Sea Shepherd Australia stated: “Having sailed six campaigns personally on the Irwin, I have many fond priceless experiences and cherished memories that I take with me to the grave. So, it’s with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our flagship the Steve Irwin, for the Steve has facilitated Sea Shepherd in creating lasting victories and legacies for our oceans. A global and Australian iconic vessel that has defended whales off the Kimberley, the Great Australian Bight, the Great Barrier Reef and off Antarctica," Jeff continued. 

"The Steve Irwin’s final journey will be to a Hong Kong Convention approved scrapping facility, meaning it meets international labor and environmental regulations. In essence, Sea Shepherd was able to further extend the life of the Irwin from a Scottish Fisheries patrol vessel to today since we purchased it back in 2007. Now in line with Sea Shepherd’s environmental ethics and standards the Irwin will be recycled.

“Sea Shepherd would like to thank and acknowledge all the wonderful people around the world that over the years volunteered, supported and funded the Steve Irwin on its vital global missions, that had a piece of their hearts filled with the hope and courage that the Steve represented, and with each campaign Sea Shepherd sailed in defense of the oceans, our supporters spirits always sailed with us.

"Together, with the Steve Irwin, we have made history, saving hundreds of thousands of marine animals in defense of our oceans, humanity's primary life support."

Foreign Industrial Trawler Arrested as Sea Shepherd Launches Renewed Partnership with Liberia

In a joint operation with the Liberian Ministry of National Defense to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Republic of Liberia, West Africa, Sea Shepherd assisted the Liberian Coast Guard in the arrest of a foreign-flagged industrial trawler caught plundering artisanal fishing waters.

Despite great efforts to conceal its identity, the 32-meter trawler Bonheur was intercepted by the Liberian Coast Guard on the 7th of November after crossing into Liberian waters from neighboring Côte d'Ivoire with its fishing gear in the water. On sighting the Coast Guard, the captain of the Bonheur immediately changed course, increased speed and attempted to flee Liberian waters. Using the small boat of Sea Shepherd’s ship, the Sam Simon, the Liberian Coast Guard were able to board and secure the Bonheur before it could escape justice.

The boarding team discovered that nets had been draped over the name of the vessel in a bid to conceal its identity from artisanal fishermen who could have otherwise reported the incursion to the Liberian Coast Guard.

The Bonheur was arrested fishing five nautical miles off the coast, within the six-nautical-mile area the Liberian government banned industrial trawling to protect the livelihoods of Liberia’s artisanal fishermen and the 33,000 Liberians who depend on small scale fisheries for their income. The ban, enacted through the establishment of an inshore exclusion zone (IEZ), has resulted in a noticeable increase in fish populations off the coast.

“As local small-scale artisanal fishermen notice the benefit of the IEZ through an increase in fish in populations, some foreign industrial fishing vessels see these coastal areas as piggy banks to be smashed by their industrial gear”, said Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd Global’s Director of Campaigns.

The Bonheur was subsequently escorted to port by the Sam Simon, where its cargo of fish was confiscated by Liberian authorities, and where the vessel awaits justice.

The arrest of the Bonheur marks the start of Operation Sola Stella III, the third partnership between Sea Shepherd and the Liberian Ministry of National Defense. The apprehension is the 13th arrest of a vessel for fisheries crimes in Liberian waters since February 2017.

Sea Shepherd Concludes Operation Albacore III Against Illegal Fishing in Central West Africa

With the departure of the M/Y Bob Barker from Port Gentil, Gabon, Operation Albacore III, officially concluded. As on previous Operation Albacore campaigns, Gabonese Navy (Marine Nationale) and inspectors with the Gabonese fisheries enforcement agency (ANPA) were stationed on board the Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon’s sovereign waters.

With the legal protections of the largest network of MPAs in Africa – nine new national marine parks and 11 new aquatic reserves created by President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s initiative to conserve more than 26% of Gabon’s waters – rangers with Gabon’s National Agency of National Parks (ANPN), joined the four-months of at-sea patrols.

The crew of the M/Y Bob Barker with Captain Anteo Broadfield and Gabonese law enforcement. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/ Sea ShepherdThe crew of the M/Y Bob Barker with Captain Anteo Broadfield and Gabonese law enforcement. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/ Sea Shepherd

Three Illegal Trawlers Arrested in Aquatic Reserves

Operation Albacore III commenced with the arrest of the Hua Yi 5, a Congolese-flagged trawler caught in the act of fishing without a license in Gabonese waters in the Grand Sud du Gabon Aquatic Reserve on the border with Congo-Brazzaville.

That arrest preceded the bust of two other trawlers, this time on the northern border between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The fishing vessels Jin Li 961 and Jin Li 962, two Chinese-flagged trawlers, were caught by the Bob Barker as they crossed from Equatorial Guinea into Gabonese waters to poach fish in the Cap Esteria Aquatic Reserve, a designated no-fishing area. On board one of the trawlers, Gabonese inspectors discovered a finned tiger shark. Both vessels remain detained in the Port of Libreville.

After the arrests on the northern and southern borders of Gabon, the patrols had their desired effect of deterring fish pirates, as no subsequent incursions were detected.

The Operation Albacore boarding team approach the Jin-Li for inspection. Photo by Tony Fenn James/Sea Shepherd.The Operation Albacore boarding team approach the Jin-Li for inspection. Photo by Tony Fenn James/Sea Shepherd.

Law enforcement agents from Gabon's National Fisheries Agency and the Gabonese Navy carry out inspections while on patrol. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.Law enforcement agents from Gabon's National Fisheries Agency and the Gabonese Navy carry out inspections while on patrol. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

European Commercial Fishing Vessel Busted for Shark Finning

With illegal fishing in Gabon’s aquatic reserves averted, Gabon and Sea Shepherd once again partnered with the Central African island state of São Tomé and Príncipe to patrol São Toméan waters.

Operating from on board the Bob Barker, the São Toméan Coast Guard together with São Tomé and Príncipe’s fisheries inspectors, arrested a Senegalese-flagged, but Spanish-linked, long-line fishing vessel for finning sharks.

Although the long-liner was licensed to fish for ‘tuna and similar species’, inspections revealed that the fish holds of the fishing vessel Vema were solely filled with two tons of sharks, predominately blue sharks that classified as ‘near-threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Shark fins were severed from their corresponding torsos.

São Toméan fisheries regulations that prohibit processing of sharks at-sea are conservation measures that ensure shark bodies are not discarded at sea to make room for the more valuable shark fins, therefore allowing far more sharks to be killed.

The arrest of the Vema is the fourth shark-finning bust carried out over the past two years, three of which were the direct result of joint operations between São Tomé and Príncipe and Gabon, with assistance by Sea Shepherd ships and crew.

A shark being pulled onto the fishing vessel Vema in São Tomé and Príncipe waters. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.A shark being pulled onto the fishing vessel Vema in São Tomé and Príncipe waters. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

A container of shark fins found on board the Vema, an industrial fishing vessel arrested in São Tomé and Príncipe. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.A container of shark fins found on board the Vema, an industrial fishing vessel arrested in São Tomé and Príncipe. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

Deliberate Setting of Nets on Whales and Whales Sharks Banned

Three years of Operation Albacore patrols, coupled with monitoring by Gabonese fisheries observers, have revealed that some industrial purse seiners were deliberately encircling whales and whale sharks with purse seine fishing nets, knowing that tuna gather around them in search of similar sources of food.

The whales and whale sharks could be stuck in the nets for hours as the fishing operators would not open the net until the fish were on board. By that time, chances of survival were low for the panicked whales and whale sharks.

Under the new regulations, if whales or whale sharks are inadvertently caught in the purse seine net, the nets must immediately be opened, even if the fishing vessel risks losing their entire catch of tuna in the process. The regulations will save the lives of many marine mammals and whale sharks - and showcase the importance of boarding and inspections of legal operators at-sea.

A whale shark trapped in a commercial fishing net. Photo taken on Operation Albacore 1 (2016) by Lukas Erichsen/Sea Shepherd.A whale shark trapped in a commercial fishing net. Photo taken on Operation Albacore 1 (2016) by Lukas Erichsen/Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd's small fast boat the Gemini spots a whale trapped inside a fishing net. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.Sea Shepherd's small fast boat the Gemini spots a whale trapped inside a fishing net. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.

Fish Aggerating Devices (FADs) Being Phased Out

Before Operation Albacore, fish aggregating devices, more commonly called FADs, were unregulated. A FAD is a floating object, usually made of plastic, that attracts fish. Sonar and satellite communications equipment fitted to the high-tech FAD alert fishing vessels to the presence of fish. FADs are problematic because they lead to higher numbers of by-catch, or the unintentional catch, of sharks and juvenile fish. In the case of the latter, fishing on FADs in Gabonese waters has resulted in almost 80% of the tuna caught being below reproductive age, as opposed to 12% on free schools of tuna. Gabon is now regulating the number of FADs that can be deployed by ship - and there is a movement within Gabon to ban FADs all-together. That movement will save countless sharks.

Small fish gathering beneath an FAD. Photo by Nellie Huié/Sea Shepherd.Small fish gathering beneath an FAD. Photo by Nellie Huié/Sea Shepherd.

The crew of the M/Y Bob Barker confiscating an illegal FAD. Photo by Lukas Erichsen/Sea Shepherd.The crew of the M/Y Bob Barker confiscating an illegal FAD. Photo by Lukas Erichsen/Sea Shepherd.

FAD tracking devices allowing fishing vessels to locate them with sonar and satellite. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.FAD tracking devices allowing fishing vessels to locate them with sonar and satellite. Photo by Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

Operation Albacore Continues

Although Operation Albacore III concludes with the departure of the Bob Barker from Gabonese waters, Sea Shepherd is committed to continue working with Gabon and other regional partners to defend, conserve and protect the Gulf of Guinea from illegal and destructive fishing practices.

Thwarted Again: Poaching Vessels Still Stuck in Cabo Verde Port after 2015 Arrest

Back in May 2015, Sea Shepherd tipped off police in the West African Republic of Cabo Verde about the presence of two black-listed illegal fishing vessels sought by Interpol hiding out in their port (read the article here). The Cabo Verde Judicial Police detained the vessels and international efforts continue to keep them grounded ever since.

Crew of the Sam Simon hauled 72 kilometres of illegal gillnet abandoned by the Thunder in Antarctic waters. Photo: Giacomo GiorgiCrew of the Sam Simon hauled 72 kilometres of illegal gillnet abandoned by the Thunder in Antarctic waters. Photo: Giacomo Giorgi

The two vessels, formerly known as Yongding and Songhua, are historically-linked to the infamous Vidal Armadores toothfish poaching syndicate and have made numerous attempts to change their names and registries in ill-fated bids to escape detention in the port of Mindelo.

Recent investigations by crew on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon show that the toothfish poachers’ latest bid to undermine law enforcement authorities by renaming the Songhua to Pesca Cisne 2, and attempting to flag it to Chile, has failed. The vessel formerly known as Songhua remains detained in Mindelo, with the name Pesca Cisne 2 now painted over in drab colors and with no new markings to replace it. Sea Shepherd is concerned that the previous owner, Vidal Armadores, may have sold the vessel to another toothfish poaching kingpin, Florindo Gonzalez, the man who owned the Thunder, a toothfish poacher that sank after 110 days of pursuit by Sea Shepherd ships (see article here).

The Yongding, now named Atlantic Wind, also remains detained after failing in its attempt to gain a new flag from Tanzania. Since detention, the two vessels have cycled through the flags of Sierra Leone, Tanzania – and attempted to flag to Chile – all without luck. 

“The continued detention of the vessels best known as Yongding and Songhua are the result of continued vigilance by Sea Shepherd, Oceana, Interpol’s Project Scale, law enforcement authorities in Cabo Verde and other international organizations and agencies, ensuring that attempts by the poachers to have the ships simply transfer hands under new names – or to hop flags – is met with immediate response. The success of Operation Icefish, which started with the sinking of the notorious Thunder, continues as these two vessels have now been stuck in port for three-and-a-half years”, said Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd Global.

The crew of the Sam Simon confirm the poaching vessels are still in the Port of Mindelo. Photos by Emanuela Giurano/Sea Shepherd.

The crew of the Sam Simon confirm the poaching vessels are still in the Port of Mindelo. Photos by Emanuela Giurano/Sea Shepherd.The crew of the Sam Simon confirm the poaching vessels are still in the Port of Mindelo. Photos by Emanuela Giurano/Sea Shepherd.

Jeedara Partnership

Sea Shepherd Australia invited scientists from The South Australian Department of Environment and Water to accompany them on a science expedition aboard the M/Y Steve Irwin to the Investigator Marine Park.

In March 2018, Marine and terrestrial surveys of the Investigator Area were conducted on and around the remote Pearson Isles and Flinders Island. Pearson and Flinders Islands are iconic locations and biodiversity hotspots, with a high diversity and abundance of fish as well as being home to breeding populations of long-nosed fur seals and endangered Australian sea lions.

Investigator Marine Park is a remote area located in the Investigator Group of islands in the Great Australian Bight off the west coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Offshore islands Pearson and Flinders are two islands found in the Investigator Marine Park. Due to their significant conservation and scientific value they have been prioritised for long term monitoring.

Minister Speirs said: “It is amazing that 85 per cent of southern Australia’s marine life isn’t found anywhere else in the world. Scientific programmes such as this provide the foundation for our ongoing understanding and management of South Australia’s natural assets. Investigator Marine Park is dedicated to in order to conserve this significant biodiversity for the community and future generations.“

Marine and ecological scientists from the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and the University of Adelaide joined Sea Shepherd staff on the expedition.

Sea Shepherd supplied their vessel, the M/Y Steve Irwin, to access the remote islands, enabling DEW to undertake critical ongoing dive monitoring. The Marine Parks Team conducted up to three marine survey dives per day, measuring size, abundance and biodiversity of fishes, invertebrates and macro-algae. Sea Shepherd undertook filming to capture the uniqueness of the Pearson Isles Sanctuary Zone, a location many will never have an opportunity to personally visit.

Dr Simon Bryars, Marine Parks Principal Scientist from DEW, said: “This expedition makes a significant contribution to assessment of biodiversity of the iconic Pearson Island area. Preliminary analysis shows that Pearson Island sub tidal habitats support the highest fish biodiversity and highest fish sizes surveyed by DEW in the South Australian marine park network. ”

“A red banded wrasse (pseudolabrus biserialis) was recorded - this represents the first record of this species in this state. Blue groper populations were prolific – potentially the highest abundance of any South Australian sanctuary zone. These initial findings suggest that this ecosystem is functioning close to an intact system and therefore important as a reference site for understanding other subtidal reef systems.”

Sandy Carruthers, Executive Director, Science, Department for Environment and Water: “I’m delighted that we have conducted the first marine parks expedition to Pearson Island, of assessment of biodiversity there. I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Sea Shepherd and the crew of the Steve Irwin for making this critical expedition possible, for it simply would not have happened without their support.”

Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director and expedition leader said: “The trip also facilitated using drones to count and classify endangered Australian sea lions. Computer models can then be used to get an indication of the population and health of the sea lions. 

"Places like Pearson Isles are critical to the survival of this charismatic and tourism drawcard species. 3D habitat models for the Pearson Isles little penguin colony will also be developed from captured drone footage," he said.  

“Sea Shepherd is an organisation that fills voids with the overall mission to protect the biodiversity of our oceans that all humanity rely on, be that in working with the governments in Africa in combatting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, or facilitating critical marine and terrestrial ecological surveys with the South Australian Government in the Great Australian Bight.

“The Great Australian Bight truly is one of the best kept secrets, an amazing grand marine wilderness area of global significance and importance. Sea Shepherd was proud to be able to facilitate this trip working with government to assess the biodiversity of this area," Jeff said.

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Sea Shepherd news articles from 2012 and earlier.

For articles from 2013 and newer, visit our Sea Shepherd News page.

 
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