A 20-day at-sea patrol undertaken by a coalition of Tanzanian law enforcement agencies, Fish-i Africa and Sea Shepherd crew working on board the Ocean Warrior, has resulted in the arrest of ten vessels, seven of which belong to a network of timber smugglers who are devasting mangrove forests in East Africa.
Since the arrest of three fishing vessels for fisheries crimes and the levying of fines totaling 19 billion Tanzanian Shillings (6,865,160 EUR) against 19 other fishing vessels that fled Tanzania before submitting to mandatory post-fishing inspections, there has been little to no observed fishing activity in Tanzanian waters. Thus, the M/Y Ocean Warrior spent two weeks monitoring an infamous smuggling route between the island of Zanzibar and the mainland of Tanzania.
During the course of the patrols, seven dhows were arrested for smuggling illegal cargos of mangrove timber to be sold on the black market. Dhows are traditional cargo boats commonly found trading in the Indian Ocean.
Tanzanian law strictly protects mangrove forests as they are critical habitat for the many species of shellfish and fin fish that spawn and nurse there, and thereby crucial to supporting the livelihoods of local communities, especially artisanal fishermen.
Despite the best efforts of the Tanzanian government to enforce wide protections of mangrove swamps, some areas have been exploited to such an extent that natural regeneration is impossible without the intervention of law enforcement. Busting timber smuggling operations at sea is an important part of that human intervention and leads to intelligence that can be used by law enforcement to raid shore-based operations of the highly lucrative smuggling trade in mangrove timber.
All seven dhows were forfeited, their cargoes confiscated, and their captains arrested. The captain of one of the dhows deliberately sank his own vessel while under tow by the M/Y Ocean Warrior in order to create a climate of confusion with the intention of allowing the other towed dhows to escape. The crew of the dhow were rescued, and the captain charged on suspicion of obstructing a criminal investigation.
Tanzanian authorities also arrested a Pakistani captain of a cargo vessel on suspicion of violating Tanzanian immigration laws, and two dhows transporting a combined total of 71 people, including 12 children, in unseaworthy vessels without proper registration papers or life-saving appliances such as life jackets.
In total, ten vessels were arrested on the second joint patrol between Sea Shepherd and Tanzanian authorities, supported by Fish-i Africa.