Vietnam’s blue boats unacceptable: New Caledonia

by Netani Rika | 4 December 2017 | News

New Caledonia's Manuel Ducroque: Vietnam's reef robbers nabbed with shark fins, skins.

by Netani Rika, Manila

French navy intercepts Vietnam’s reef pillagers

WCPFC14, MANILA— THE French Navy has intercepted two Vietnamese blue boats fishing illegally in New Caledonian waters.

This is the second capture of Vietnamese boats by the French authorities in the Pacific this year.

In a joint operation with the Australian Defence Force the boats carrying shark fins and skins were seized, and their crews detained on Thursday.

Describing the blue boats as unacceptable, New Caledonia’s representative to the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Manuel Ducrocq, called for serious measures against Vietnam.

“Despite the assurances of Vietnam last year, the illegal operations of these blue boats continues,” Ducrocq said at the Tuna Commission meeting in Pasay City in the Philippines.

“I am here to warn you that the blue boats are back and we find this unacceptable.”

In July three Vietnamese blue boat captains were fined $USD1.4million for illegal operations in Solomon Islands waters. They were jailed for four years after failing to pay the fines.

Blue boats typically scour reefs for highly valuable beche-de-mer, trochus, giant clam, shark fin, turtle and abalone for the Vietnamese market.

Typically built of wood they are very low in the water and extremely difficult to detect by maritime patrols and satellites.

Previously blue boats have been caught in the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Palau, the Solomon Islands, and Australia.

Ducrocq said that the blue boats arrested this week had been were in breach of international rules and New Caledonian law and had been found fishing in a shark sanctuary.

Illegal fishing is worth an estimated $USD235million annually and makes up for 20 per cent of fisheries activity around the world, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.

Bubba Cook of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said blue boat activities were emblematic of the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.

“If those vessels are getting in, what about other vessels that are getting in and what about the lack of reporting,” Cook said.

“We know from the Forum Fisheries Agency analysis that was done on IUU a couple of years ago that the biggest proportion of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the region is not the illegal vessels like the Blue Boats but the unreported portion, or misreported portions, so people not filing out log books or failing to record things or looking the other way on things has even a bigger impact than the Blue Boats.“

Cook said blue boats highlighted a problem with illegal activities which must be addressed by the region.

The Solomon Islands’ Chief Justice, Sir Arnold Palmer, said in his judgment of illegal Vietnamese fishing captains that IUU was a new phenomenon to the region and caused much concern, in terms of the theft of  valuable sea resources and wealth.

“This is relatively new way of intruding into the territorial seas and coastal waters by relatively small foreign vessels to fish for inshore species, with a focus on high value product in the Asian market,” Palmer said.

Palmer said blue boat captains took calculated risks to enter into the exclusive economic zone of Solomon Islands waters on the view that the Pacific was a soft target.

“I can assure you and everyone else thinking of coming into our waters that if caught you will be appropriately dealt with under our laws,”  Palmer warned.

Less than 12 month later New Caledonia’s capture has warned the Pacific that the region is still a target despite the Solomon Islands ruling and the seizure and destruction of blue boats by Palau and Indonesia in 2015, and recent cases in Micronesia.