From: , Oceana, More from this Affiliate
Published March 7, 2008 12:02 AM

The End of Pirate Fishing Vessel Viarsa 1

Madrid -- The Australian authorities have confirmed that last December one of the most infamous pirate fishing vessels, the Viarsa 1, associated with the Galician ship owning company Vidal Armadores S.A. was scrapped at a shipyard in Mumbai, India. This puts an end to the long legal action against this vessel initiated in 2003 in connection with the development of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, more commonly known as pirate fishing, in the waters of the Southern Ocean.

Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana Europe said: “At last an appropriate conclusion has been reached after a long process undertaken by the Australian government, although this vessel is just one on a long list of boats that, under the cover of flags of convenience, illegally poach Patagonian toothfish stocks in the Southern Ocean”.

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Australian fishing patrol vessels detected the Viarsa 1 in 2003 while illegally catching Patagonian toothfish in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Australia, close to the McDonald islands. The pursuit of the Viarsa 1 over 3900 nautical miles, considered one of the longest in maritime history, lasted 21 days, and ended with the detention of the pirate vessel in the South Atlantic, off the coast of South Africa. These events inspired a book by a Wall Street Journal journalist, “Hooked: pirates, poaching and the perfect fish”.

Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea-bass, is a slow-growing deep sea species with a high commercial value in world markets. Fishing and catching licenses are regulated by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), but a large number of vessels engage in pirate (IUU) fishing in the area. This means that a high percentage of the harvest is caught illegally.

Xavier Pastor points out that Spanish companies are the beneficiaries of these illegal activities: "These pirate vessels are controlled by Spanish companies, as is specifically the case of Vidal Armadores S.A. This company is associated with vessels such as the Viarsa 1, the Hammer and the Magnus, either as owners or as operators through subsidiaries in countries like Uruguay or Mauritius. This Spanish company has however received substantial subsidies from the Spanish General Secretariat of Maritime Fishing, as repeatedly denounced by Oceana in recent years.” By way of example, he adds: "Last summer, the Magnus, under the name of Ina Maka and flying a South Korean flag, was apprehended and fined in South Africa for using illegal fishing gear. These practices are frequent and in most cases occur with complete impunity. The vessel Galaecia, operated by Vidal Armadores, was also the subject of an investigation for suspected illegal fishing by the General Secretariat of Maritime Fishing, but finally the case file was closed and today the Galaecia still has a license to fish tuna in the Indian Ocean."

Meanwhile, Antonio Vidal Pego, the son of Antonio Vidal, the owner of Vidal Armadores S.A., acted as a representative for Uruguayan companies involved in pirate fishing for Patagonian toothfish and was sentenced in 2006 by a court in Miami to a fine of 400,000 US dollars for illegally importing this species, falsification of documents and obstructing the course of justice. The Uruguayan company, Fadilur SA, was ordered to pay a fine and to cease all business activities. Antonio Vidal Pego is currently on probation and was sentenced by the US court to cease any involvement, direct or indirect, in toothfish fishing and selling activities.

New initiatives to combat IUU

The fight against IUU fishing is a worldwide priority. Recently, the European Commission presented a proposal for a Regulation to combat this activity which, if approved, could include the obligation of the Member States to control and sanction companies that are involved in IUU fishing. Amongst other measures, the proposed Regulation would also prevent vessels that have been involved in such activities from obtaining special fishing licenses or permits. The proposed text is currently being debated and negotiated in the EU institutions.

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