Tuna vessels with ties to China arrested in Vanuatu, accused of illegal fishing

Two tuna-fishing vessels have been seized in Vanuatu after being accused of engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

The Dong Gang Xing 13 and Dong Gang Xing 16 – both built by a major Chinese tuna firm in 2018 and currently registered to the Zhuhai, China-based company Zhuhai Donggangxing Ocean Fishing – have been remanded into custody after being found allegedly fishing illegally in Vanuatu’s northern waters near the remote Torres Islands.

In a sign of the increased attention –and international cooperation – being applied to illegal fishing in the region, Vanuatu’s naval authorities received assistance from a French naval reconnaissance plane from the French territory of New Caledonia before the vessels were detained by a Vanuatu patrol boat.

The crew on the fishing vessels is currently in COVID-19-related quarantine in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and will be subject to interrogation as part of an investigation by the Vanuatu Fisheries Department, according to an announcement by the Vanuatu Police Department.

In recent years, several Chinese fishing companies have upped their presence in Vanuatu. In 2018, Zhuhai Dong Gang Xing Long Distance Fishing Co, a firm based in Zhuhai, China – a city of 1.5 million residents bordering Macau and Hong Kong – announced it would send 10 new vessels to Vanuatu, where it said it also planned to build a wharf.

In December 2020, another Pacific island nation, Palau, detained a Chinese-flagged vessel and six auxiliary boats allegedly found to be harvesting sea cucumber illegally. Palau’s new president, Surangel Whipps Jr., said Chinese authorities had not been responsive to the nation’s efforts to bring the matter to their attention.

“They don’t seem to care and that is unacceptable,” he told the Guardian. “They should take responsibility for their people, and it is like they encouraged them by ignoring them. It’s not good.”

At the end of last year, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said her country was “a responsible fishing country”, with “‘zero tolerance’ for violations of relevant laws and regulations committed by distant fishing vessels.”

“We have… strengthened international cooperation, and done a great deal of fruitful work in jointly combating illegal fishing and promoting the sustainable development of fishery resources with other countries,” Hua said at a press conference.

Whipps Jr. said he is committed to securing his country’s maritime borders.

“lllegal fishing has to stop,” he said. “As countries, we should also be responsible to our people and tell them not to go to other countries and do these kinds of things.”

Photo courtesy of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission


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