Fighting the Genuine Pirates of the Caribbean

On June 13, 2003, the government of the British Virgin Islands arrested and seized a 38-foot (11 meter) fishing boat named the "Black Pearl" for illegally fishing in an area called the North Drop, off the BVI. The Black Pearl was participating in a fishing tournament in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands at the time they were caught (source: July 23, 2003).

Ironically a Hollywood action/adventure movie "Pirates of the Caribbean", starring Johnny Depp opened this month featuring a pirate ship also called the "Black Pearl". Unlike Depp's "Black Pearl", the arrested fishing boat was used by the real pirates to plunder the Caribbean in search of its "treasure" - the world's rapidly dwindling fish populations.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) welcomed the news of local police forces intercepting, arresting and prosecuting these poachers. Sea Shepherd's TICO (Treasured Islands Conservation Operation) initiative was created to allow for more enforcement of conservation law to be practiced in Caribbean and Latin American waters. The SSCS/TICO vessel "Sirenian" has already been providing the park rangers in the Galapagos-Cocos Island wildlife corridor significant support with its acquisition and pursuit capabilities. SSCS/TICO efforts have lead to the capture and arrest of several longline and poaching operations and SSCS/TICO has been working since the beginning of 2003 to expand this initiative with the assistance of Conservation International and its Seascape Project.

"Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is ready, willing and able to lend the resources of our ships, crew, and 25-years of experience to any government or NGO seeking to protect their precious marine wildlife resource," states Captain Paul Watson, president of SSCS and member of the Sierra Club national board. He further states: "We created TICO with the flexibility to work cooperatively with local jurisdictions and provide material support to local policing efforts. We applaud BVI coast guard's willingness to enforce the laws of their territory in the face of these reckless profiteers from a foreign country."

Further, the fines levied in this case demonstrate how proper enforcement and prosecution places the financial burden on the criminal, not the local government. Scott Niddrie and Captain Jimmy Estrasa, owners of the real Black Pearl vessel, were charged with fishing without a license and registration. The two men each face a maximum fine of $500,000 if convicted at the trail scheduled to begin Sept 5. BVI Magistrate Gail Charles signed an order for the return of the Black Pearl on July 23 - the owner is required to pay $15,000 to the court before the boat is released.