INFRINGEMENT: The FV Premier, a South Korean purse seine fishing vessel owned by Dongwon Industries was monitored by satellite to have been fishing between November 2011 and May 2012 in the Liberian EEZ. At that time, the Liberian government had declared a moratorium on all industrial fishing activity in its waters.
ACTIONS: In late 2012 following enquires by the Liberian government to the government of South Korea and reference to the vessel’s suspected illegal fishing on the Stop Illegal Fishing website, the Premier relocated to the Indian Ocean, arguably in an attempt to escape justice.
The newly-launched FISH-i Africa Task Force was aware of the investigations into the Premier and were anticipating its arrival in December 2012 in Port Louis, Mauritius. The Liberian government requested the Mauritian Ministry of Fisheries to inspect the vessel, who responded promptly, providing copies of the fishing catch log and a forged Liberian fishing licence. This provided key evidence Liberia needed to take legal action: early in 2013, the Liberian Government issued formal charges against both the Premier and another Dongwon vessel, the Solevant, for several violations of the Liberia Fisheries Regulations including fishing without a licence.
While the investigation remained open through the early part of 2013 and following the issuance of a fine, all FISH-i Africa countries demonstrated their commitment against illegal fishing:
- In January, Kenya, in February, Mozambique, and Kenya again in March denied Premier a fishing license and uncovered forged letters allegedly from Liberian authorities absolving the vessel of any illegal implications;
- In March, Seychelles, based on the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Port State Measures Resolution (PSMR), denied the Premier permission to offload its catch in Port Victoria;
- In April, Tanzania refused to renew the Premier’s fishing licence;
- Throughout, Comoros stated their intent to deny any application for a fishing licence; and
- when the vessel returned to Mauritius in April and requested to offload its catch, this request was denied by the Ministry of Fisheries.
The Premier was now a notorious vessel. Liberia’s action followed by the allegiance of the FISH-i Africa countries and Mauritius led to over 50 international press stories, numerous blogs, tweets, Facebook comments and activists painting the word “illegal” on the hull of the vessel. Africa and the world made it clear that until the fine was paid – the Premier was not welcome, nor was its fish wanted.
On the 22 April 2013, the owners of the vessel, South Korea’s Dongwon Industries paid the Liberian government two million US dollars in settlement of the charges against the FV Premier and the FV Solevant. The Mauritian government did not allow Premier to offload: she eventually offloaded in May in Colombo, Sri Lanka before sailing home to South Korea.
Key Features and Outcomes:
- Effective pan-African cooperation demonstrated that no matter where the Premier went, it was held responsible for its illegal fishing actions.
- Application of the regional legal framework – the IOTC PSMR, based on the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) provided the legal framework for some of the actions that were taken against the vessel.
- Payment of two million US dollars settlement to Liberia – demonstrated that when the cost of illegal fishing becomes too high, owners are forced to play by the rules.
- The UK and other EU States imposed extra inspections and restrictions on tuna imports from West Africa – based on increased evidence and exposure of IUU fishing activities in West Africa.
- The legitimate industry – fearing any real or perceived connection to Dongwon tuna encouraged the Mauritian authorities to not allow the offloading of Premier’s catch in Port Louis, while buyers on behalf of the European market in Bangkok, Thailand were reported to be unwilling to buy Dongwon fish for fear of possible consumers’ negative response.
- South Korea is reportedly intending to strengthen penalties against its distant water vessels that fish illegally – due to the large and harmful media coverage of Dongwon and a recent warning from the United States for a possible import ban on South Korea’s fisheries products.
- Strengthening FISH-i Africa – the critical role that the FISH-i Africa Task Force played in the Premier case, drew awareness to the benefits of expanding this group to include Mauritius and Madagascar – in May 2013 both countries joined the FISH-i Africa Task Force.
- African countries should continue to unite in denying illegal operators access to fishing grounds and port services, by doing this illegal fishing will become increasingly unprofitable.
- Ratifying and implementing regional, continental and international agreements on fishery related issues, such as the FAO PSMA and the IOTC PSMR is important to facilitate national actions against IUU fishing operators.
- Transparency in fisheries governance should be increased, for example through publishing vessel licence and registration lists, licensing procedures and information on on-going and closed IUU fishing cases.
- A mechanism to facilitate national, regional and international collaboration and information exchange, including between coastal, flag, port and market States, in relation to evidence gathering, arrests and prosecutions in fishery cases is required.
National, regional and international collaboration between fishery, police, customs and tax authorities to investigate and prosecute associated crimes such as corruption, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.