The decision on whether or not to pursue the evidence accumulated by the crew of a Sea Shepherd vessel who tracked Chinese netters from the southern Indian Ocean to a Chinese port now rests with the Chinese authorities.
Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin located a fleet of six Chinese vessels driftnetting in the southern Indian Ocean via SkyTruth, an organisation that maps illegal activity using satellite AIS, and captain Siddharth Chakravarty decided to follow up the lead, leaving Fremantle on the 18th of January. A week later the AIS pings turned out to be the six netters working with outlawed semi-pelagic driftnets that were banned under the 1992 UN moratorium.
Steve Irwin tracked the Fu Yuan Yu vessels when they met reefer Liao Chang Yu Yun 088 to transship catches before returning to China. Of the six netters still at sea, the AIS transmissions ceased one by one, leaving only the Fu Yuan Yu 076 transmitting as the fleet shifted to the western edge of the Ninety East Ridge in the North Indian Ocean.
The Fu Yuan Yu 076 was tracked by Steve Irwin for nineteen days as it passed through the northern Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits and into the South China Sea, after which Sea Shepherd stayed outside the port of Zhuhai after the netter’s activities had bene reported to the Chinese authorities.
Siddharth Chakravarty and his crew offered to hand over to the Chinese authorities the 4000m of driftnet and marker dahns they were able to retrieve, as well as data in the form of physical sightings, eye-witnesses testimony, photographs and log-book entries. The offer has been declined and the Chinese authorities have instead decided to investigate the case themselves.
The catch in the retrieved driftnet consisted mainly of blue sharks but also numerous smaller pelagic fish, bluefin tuna, dolphins and seals.
‘The evidence on board the Steve Irwin forms the most crucial part of the upcoming investigation,’ Siddharth Chakravarty said. ‘Given that the Chinese authorities are choosing to proceed without the evidence, I can only hope that the electronic submissions made to the authorities over the past three months have provided them with sufficient evidence to successfully conduct the investigation and find the perpetrators of these fisheries crimes guilty.’