Sea Shepherd Launches Operation Sola Stella with the Liberian Ministry of National Defense: New campaign to eradicate illegal fishing kicks off with the arrest of three poaching vessels
For the past three weeks, Sea Shepherd has been secretly patrolling the waters of the Republic of Liberia in West Africa in a covert operation to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Working in partnership with the Liberian Ministry of National Defense under the coordination of the Honorable Minister Brownie Samukai, the MY Bob Barkeris patrolling Liberia’s coastline with 20 crew under the command of Captain Fraser Hall, ten Liberian Coast Guard sailors with the authority to board, inspect and arrest ships violating Liberian law, and two Israeli maritime advisors and conservationists providing training assistance.
Named Operation Sola Stella, the campaign has already resulted in the arrest of three IUU fishing vessels in the first three weeks. They are currently being held in detention at the Liberian Coast Guard base in Monrovia.
- February 3rd -- FV Hispasen 7, a 37-meter Spanish-owned trawler flagged to Senegal, boarded near the border with Cote d’Ivoire. Upon investigation, the vessel was found to be in violation of 26 laws and regulations, including an admission of transshipment for 20 ton of shrimp in the waters of Cote d’Ivoire. Transshipment is strictly prohibited under the Cote d’Ivoire Fisheries Code. Three of the crew were undocumented and without passports.
- February 7th – FV Shenghai 9, a 40-meter Chinese trawler, boarded off the port of Monrovia, The vessel was found to be in violation of 22 laws and regulations. The master of the FV Shenghai 9 was unable to produce a single vessel document, such as a Certificate of Registry as required by Port State and Flag State, and could not explain why one of the Chinese nationals, for whom he had a passport, was missing. Sanitation conditions on board the vessel were appalling, with Chinese nationals housed in air-conditioned cabins and the African crew, mostly Sierra Leone nationals, housed in a cockroach-infested tent on top exposed to the elements. Investigations by the Ministry of National Defense have further uncovered systematic efforts by the owner of the FV Shenghai 9 to under-declare their landings with the criminal intent to avoid tax and customs in Liberia. As a result the Ministry of National Defense has instructed the Liberian Coast Guard to stop and inspect every vessel owned by the fishing company.
- February 18th – FV Lu Rong Yuan Yu 988, a 40-meter trawler flagged to Ghana, boarded near the border with Cote d’Ivoire. The vessel was apprehended while actively fishing without a license, as well as fishing within the six-nautical-mile Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) reserved for Liberia’s subsistence, artisanal and semi-artisanal fishing sector, off-limits to trawlers. The Liberian Coast Guard supervised the release of the vessel's catch. The master offered the Liberian Coast Guard boarding officer an 8,000 USD bribe to release the vessel, a criminal act that was refused and subsequently reported.
“We wanted to keep the operation a secret for the first few weeks, operating under the cover of darkness so we could catch as many ships as possible by surprise,” said Campaign Leader Peter Hammarstedt. “We commend the Hon Minister of National Defense for his steadfast resolve in prioritizing fisheries crime and bringing fishing pirates to justice.”
“They’re not going to get away with this anymore,” promised Samukai. “I will personally make sure that they will be punished to the full extent of the law. We will make it very, very clear that the time for illegal fishing is over.”
Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing, which accounts for up to 40% of the fish caught in West African waters. This campaign will help Liberia crack down on unlicensed foreign industrial vessels operating in its waters and protect the six nautical miles closest to shore reserved for subsistence, artisanal and semi-artisanal fishing, which employs 33,000 Liberians.
In 2016 Sea Shepherd partnered with the government of Gabon for Operation Albacore, resulting in over 40 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of three IUU Congolese fishing trawlers and one Spanish long-liner. Operation Sola Stella is a continuation of Sea Shepherd Global’s commitment to work with national governments to help end IUU fishing.