Fugitives from justice

Summary

The arrest of ten fishing vessels off the South Africa coast shocked the nation. The vessels were in a poor state and were crewed by 75 Indonesians who were subject to appalling working and living conditions. Whilst under detention in Cape Town two of the vessels absconded and are still at large.

Key events

November 2013: Ten fishing vessels were arrested by the South African authorities on suspicion of fishing offences made in the ICCAT area. The fleet of vessels were using several names and identifiers between them and fraudulently sharing several fishing licenses. The vessels had also been detected fishing illegally within the South African EEZ. Senior officers on board one of the vessels, the BERKAT MENJALA No. 23 presented a forged vessel registration certificate purportedly issued by Indonesia and it is suspected that the registration certificates of all the vessels may be false.

In addition to the fishing and identify violations the fishers and crews on board the vessels had not been paid for several months and were working in substandard, unsafe and unhygienic conditions. A total of 75 fishers were evacuated from the ten vessels and eventually repatriated to Indonesia.

29 December 2013: Two of the ten fishing vessels the BERKAT MENJALA No. 23 and SAMUDERA PACIFIC No. 8 fled the Port of Cape Town, in contravention of the arrest order. The vessels are suspected to have changed name, IMO number and/or call sign after leaving Cape Town. Concerns have been raised that corrupt practices used to facilitate the escape of the two vessels from Cape Town, but no charges have been made to date.

22 January 2014: INTERPOL Purple Notices were issued for the SAMUDERA PASIFIC No. 8 AND BERKAT MENJALA No. 23.

January 2014: Vessels tracked by FISH-i heading to Mombasa, Kenya – vessels did not enter port.

20 March 2015: The remaining eight vessels in the fleet were sold at auction for a knockdown price, the initial owner brought the vessels and sold them on. They are now refitted and operating again in the Western Indian Ocean under new names and ownership.

What did FISH-i AFrica do?

  • Assisted the South African authorities
  • Cooperated with INTERPOL
  • Tracked vessels
  • Investigated links to organised crime
  • Facilitated cooperation between South African and Tanzanian authorities
  • Monitored WIO ports and alerted Kenya when the vessels were expected to arrive in Mombasa
  • Assisted Tanzanian Authorities with investigation into the cases

Conclusion  

This case focussed public attention in Africa on the plight of fishers on illegal fishing vessels. Supporting and repatriating the fishers was a long and difficult process and indicates that additional support is needed in these situations. The identity of the ten vessels is still under investigation, consideration that they were at one point decommissioned before re-entering the fishing fleet with false names and flags is being reviewed. There are strong reasons to believe that the two escaped vessels are in fact stateless and now sailing under a false name, IMO number and call sign. Investigations by FISH-i Africa continue. That two fishing vessels can abscond, evade penalties and – under the current systems – rename and reflag with relative ease before resuming their fishing operations highlights the need for mandatory IMO numbers and a Global Record of Vessels.