Argentine coast guard opens fire on Chinese fishing vessel

A ship belonging to the Argentine coast guard shot at a Chinese fishing vessel it claims was fishing illegally within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

On 2 March, the coast guard cutter, the Mantilla, fired warning shots at the Hua Xiang 801, a 72-meter Chinese-flagged trawler, which Argentina claimed did not have its Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned on while fishing for squid around one kilometer inside Argentina’s territorial waters. The vessel ceased fishing when it was confronted, then made a run for international waters after turning off its running lights. After being followed by the Mantilla, the Chinese jigger then made aggressive maneuvers in the direction of the Argentina vessel, prompting it to fire warning shots.

Chinese media reports reported the problem resulted from the fact that Chinese fishing companies have not been provided Argentina’s boundary coordinates, and thus rely on internationally used nautical charts which may have discrepancies from Argentina’s territorial claims. 

Media in Argentina have not been able to identify who owns the Hua Xiang 801 and, China’s Fisheries Management Bureau at the Agricultural Ministry, which licenses China’s distant-water fleet, hasn’t divulged the ownership details of the Hua Xiang 801.

The fiasco is the latest in a string of similar incidents in Argentina and elsewhere in South America. In February 2018, the Hua Li 8, owned by the Zhoushan Hua Li Distant Water Fishery Co., was apprehended in Indonesia and forced to pay an ARS 7 million (USD 175,800, EUR 155,200) fine for fishing illegally in Argentine waters. A separate vessel, the Jing Yuan 626, is still being sought by Argentina for illegal fishing in its waters for suspected illegal fishing. It is owned by the Yantai Bei Jing Distant Water Fishing Co., located in Yantai city near Qingdao on China’s east coast. In 2016, the Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010, owned by the Yantai Distant Water Fishing Co., which had a long history of fishery incidents abroad, was sunk by the Argentine navy after being caught fishing illegally. And in February 2019, another Chinese vessel, the Zhongyuanyu 11, collided with a Spanish vessel, the Pesca Vaquiero, 16 kilometers outside the Argentine EEZ. 

Ecuador, meanwhile, continues to hold crew members from the Fu Yuan Yu Ling 999, a reefer detained for illegal fishing of protected species in March 2018.

The mounting number of incidents is putting intense scrutiny on China to take action, though the country is somewhat protected by the fact that it owns a significant portion of the debt of many Latin American countries, and has additional leverage in Argentina as a major purchasers of the country’s agricultural exports.

Nonetheless, China recently said it would seek to sign protocols with individual countries, including Argentina, on how to handle disputes over illegal fishing – a move which would take some of the attention off China if incidents are handled internally. Other countries it’s seeking protocols with include Fiji, Mauritania, Iran, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. 

Photo courtesy of La Prefectura Argentina


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