A quick insight into the world of INTERPOL’s most wanted… fishing vessels.

During my last trip to Senegal , to participate to the filming of “the missing fish”, a neat documentary about Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fisheries and the ways of tackling them, I had to go onboard the Kunlun, or the Asian warrior, or Tai San, or Chang Bai, or Hongshui, or Huang He 22, or Sima Qian Baru 22, etc.; all names of the same vessel, the Kunlun!

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Actually it was the Asian Warrior when I boarded it. The Asian Warrior, a name that inspires so much. You think of a Japanese Samurai, or something of the sort. Well actually, it is a most wanted stateless illegal toothfish fishing vessel that is owned by a Spanish company and reflagged to a dozen states, allegedly.

We boarded the ship by jumping from one vessel to the next. Before we finally got into the Asian Warrior, we met with a French Skipper who was telling us, that the ship was a bad neighbour. One could actually guess why!

Besides being wanted by INTERPOL, it escaped custody in Thailand. Not many escape custody in Thailand, many get away with human trafficking, and never even get caught there. Thailand didn’t use to care about human trafficking until it received a yellow card by the EU! The Kunlun got caught in Thailand.

As the vessel decided to take route to West Africa, a.k.a. the Eldorado of illegal fishing, the black hole of illegal fishing, as reported by Environmental Justice Foundation, where it did not risk much, it was being followed by INTERPOL and the Spanish government.  Usually, the story stops at :”the ship is currently operating in Guinea”, but it was not the case this time. Guinea happens to have been red-carded and black-listed by the EU, and so vessels won’t land their catches there, as they will never end up on the EU market, so INTERPOL and the Spanish government suspected that it will go to Senegal. Surely, the Kunlun was not stupid enough to go to Las Palmas, where IUU fish was often landed, it was wanted and it would have been caught the moment it entered the Spanish waters. INTERPOL contacted Senegal and told the Department of Surveillance that it may end up in Dakar. Dakar has a big fishing port in West Africa and vessels from the EU often land their catches there (note than they don’t land everything…). The Kunlun thought that Dakar was just another African port, so might as well land their catches there!

The Kunlun probably got the permission to get into the port because of its unrecognizable name :”the Asian Warrior” with a false or outdated “citizenship” to the St Vincent and The Grenadines.

“They arrived at night, landed everything and left quickly, all in about half an hour”.  Said the French skipper as I was waiting for the filming crew to finish up some takes of the ship.

“They left the valves open and the ship was sinking, and I had to jump in and close the valves”. “I mean, what stupid mistake is that? Who leaves a vessel with the valves open, it could sink”.

I asked him whether it was done in purpose, and he said “I think it might have been in purpose… or it is a mistake by a very unqualified crew”.

I said to the sound technician back then: “Maybe they wanted to sink it and take the insurance money”.

How can a most wanted vessel, blacklisted everywhere, be insured by anyone. Who would ensure such ship?

“The British Marine”. A journalist revealed to me recently, and granted me access to the certificate.

The story doesn’t stop here. In a recent paper by Miller et al. 2016 (can be accessed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fee.1293/full), it was shown that IUU vessels, for once, complied with insurance regulations as stipulated by the international law. In the article we can read: “

The percentages of IUU vessels and non-IUU vessels ≥1000 GT that were found on insurers’ websites were not significantly different (48% versus 58% […]). As vessels ≥ 1000 GT are required to have insurance under international law […], this suggests IUU and non-IUU vessels are similarly compliant with this particular legal requirement. Nonetheless, the percentages of vessels present on insurers’ websites do not necessarily represent the percentages of vessels insured. Vessels may also be insured through providers that do not include searchable databases on their websites. This could be particularly relevant in relation to the insurers of vessels associated with China, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Philippines, as despite these vessels having a presence in internationally shared fishing areas, their insurers, in many cases, could not be identified.

The main conclusion here is that it is a crime to ensure criminals. Both The Thunder and the Kunlun along with hundreds of others committing all sorts of crimes are ensured. I am disappointed to see that the British and the Spanish have a take on this, but hopeful as it appears that while insurances wouldn’t comment on this, some of them have removed some IUU vessels from their lists.

The tragedy is for once not in Africa, but in Europe!

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