Shark hunt: Sea Shepherd activists bring Timor-Leste police to Chinese-owned boat

Environmental activist group says it is detaining vessels for Timorese police after Chinese-owned fleet allegedly targeted sharks

The ocean activist group Sea Shepherd says it has delivered armed Timor-Leste police on to a Chinese-owned fishing vessel in a dawn raid and is detaining the vessels for the police after it was found targeting sharks.

Following a two-week hunt for the Pingtan Marine Enterprises fleet, the Sea Shepherd boat M/Y Ocean Warrior found the vessels 150km south of Timor-Leste, allegedly fishing with gill nets anchored to the bottom of the sea, which would suggest they were targeting bottom-dwellers such as sharks.

Campaign leader Garry Stokes, who is aboard the Ocean Warrior, said earlier footage taken by Sea Shepherd, showing the fleet hauling nets full of sharks – some of which are protected under international conventions – was given to the police, who then requested Sea Shepherd help officers board the vessels.

Early on the morning of 9 September, the police boarded the boat and discovered the haul, which appeared to consist almost entirely of sharks.

Stokes said the licence given to the fleet was vague but police believed any shark fishing was illegal under Timor Leste law.

Shark fin is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Conservationists are concerned demand for it is fuelling illegal trafficking and driving threatened species to extinction.

Stokes said he met with Jose Ramos Horta, the former president and former prime minister of Timor Leste, who is agitating for strong action to be taken against the crew.

Stokes said Sea Shepherd was monitoring the fleet, making sure they did not flee. He said they appeared to start moving overnight, but under the authority of the police, the Ocean Warrior threatened to damage their communication equipment with a water cannon and they stopped.

In August, the same fleet was found with 300 tonnes of fish, mostly sharks including endangered hammerhead sharks, in the Galapagos national park.

Stokes said Sea Shepherd was tracking two other vessels owned by another Chinese company, which they had observed fishing with nets that were 10km long, despite 2.5km being the maximum allowed by international law.

He said Sea Shepherd was increasingly working with authorities in third world countries, which did not have the resources to enforce protections in their oceans.

“They’re the ones getting their oceans pillaged by foreign vessels,” Stokes said. “It’s a new role for us the last couple of years. We’re hoping to roll it out over the whole of south-east Asia.”


Michael Slezak

The GuardianTramp