Monday, September 12, 2005
A suspected pirate fishing boat is under guard in Hobart after its dramatic seizure by Australia in the stormy Southern Ocean. Late on Saturday its 31 crew were taken to a secret location as investigators combed the ship for evidence.
Pirate Fishing BoatAustralia has been tracking the FV Taruman since late last month and swooped on it last Tuesday. The Cambodian-flag ship was escorted to Hobart by the Australian Customs and Fisheries patrol vessel Oceanic Viking. After tying up at Macquarie Wharf No.4 the ship was turned over to Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Customs and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers. The Taruman was boarded by 21 armed Customs officers on September 6 in the Southern Ocean, north-west of Australia's exclusive economic zone around Macquarie Island. The boarding occurred 660 nautical miles (1200km) south of Hobart. The operation had the support of the Cambodian Government. It is believed the 2145-tonne Taruman is carrying a large catch of Patagonian toothfish. Oceanic VikingThis is the first vessel to be picked up by the Oceanic Viking. The investigation will determine whether or not charges will be laid, against whom and what will happen to the catch. The AFMA will be examining the vessel, looking for evidence from charts and log books, and conducting crew interviews. If the investigation calls for prosecutions it is usual for the crew to be moved to a detention centre on the mainland to await the result of the judicial process. Fisheries and Conservation Minister Ian Macdonald said he expected the investigation to last only a few days. "Judging on what has transpired in the past it is quite difficult to find out exactly who owns these vessels," he said. Often this sort of illegal fishing vessel regularly changes its name and the country under which it is flagged to keep off the Customs and AFMA radar. Although called the Taruman the vessel was clearly labelled the Polar Princess II on both sides. The master is understood to be Spanish. He has been co-operating with the authorities. The 31-person crew included fishermen of Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, Peruvian and Chilean nationality. They are believed to be an average of 35 to 40 years old and all are reported to be in good health. The crew stayed on the vessel most of the day to be interviewed and then were transferred to a holding place. If charges are laid the senior members of the crew face the largest fines. For illegal fishing the captain could face a maximum fine of $825,000, and the vessel, catch and gear would all be forfeited to the Crown.