Chinese Shark-Fishing Fleet Released Without Charge

Credit: Sea Shepherd
Credit: Sea Shepherd

Published Jul 4, 2018 7:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The fleet of 15 industrial fishing vessels arrested for targeting sharks by Timor Leste authorities in September 2017 has been released without charge.

On September 9 2017, Sea Shepherd’s M/V Ocean Warrior supported the Timor Leste National Police (PNTL) in a dawn raid of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet of 15 fishing vessels owned by the Chinese Hong Long Company, operating within the Southeast Asian waters of Timor Leste. The fleet, which had already been banned from Indonesia for illegal fishing, obtained a 12-month permit to fish inside Timor Leste’s sovereign waters for $312,450.

The PNTL took action after Sea Shepherd shared evidence of the fleet indiscriminately fishing for sharks in the island nation's southern waters. The PNTL officers were delivered in groups of four to several of the fishing vessels. The vessels’ freezer holds were full of sharks - Sea Shepherd estimates that there were between 10,000-15,000 sharks per vessel - and very few other fish. Deck crew confirmed there had been a potentially illegal transhipment two months earlier, meaning that on average they could have been catching approximately 93,750 sharks per month across the fleet. At-sea transhipment is forbidden under Timorese law.

The laws of Timor Leste also prohibit catching any sharks listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Specifically, even though East Timor is not a signatory to CITES, its law protecting endangered species covers all CITES-listed wildlife. Additionally, the licenses issued to the Fu Yuan Yu vessels expressly referenced this law and included an appendix specifying (with full color photographs) the prohibited shark species. During the PNTL’s inspections, they found CITES-listed hammerhead sharks onboard the vessels hidden in the center of a massive pile of frozen sharks, their iconic head foils cut off to evade identification. 

Photographic evidence was obtained, and any claims that these protected sharks were not caught in Timor Leste would be contrary to the fleets’ GPS tracking, which showed that the Fu Yuan Yu vessels never left Timorese waters.

The fleet was detained in the bay off the capital of Dili, where it remained rafted together in three groups of five vessels awaiting judicial action for nine months. However, in late May 2018, the fleet was allowed to return to China for maintenance after paying bail of $100,000. Once the fleet departed Timor Leste waters, the Prosecutor's Office declared the fleet “not guilty” of violating any laws.