South Africa Detains Chinese Fishing Vessel

Image courtesy DAFF

By The Maritime Executive 2016-05-17 04:51:49

Over the weekend, authorities apprehended a Chinese fishing vessel in South Africa's territorial waters. Her crew has been detained while officials investigate whether she was engaged in illegal fishing within the nation’s EEZ.

“A case docket has been registered and will be handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority for further investigation,” said Bomikazi Molapo, spokesman for the agriculture, forestry and fisheries department. 

“I am aware that customs is also charging them for the cigarettes and tobacco that were found," said the Fisheries Department Director General, Siphokazi Ndudane, 

The crew have reportedly been confined to the ship. No fish were found aboard. 

The vessel, the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 186, was one of nine Chinese fishing vessels pursued by South African authorities over the weekend. She allegedly turned off her navigational lights in an attempt to escape and did not cooperate with a boarding attempt; media accounts suggest that the other eight vessels also turned off their lights and scattered when confronted. 

The Yuan Yu’s crew maintained that the vessels were merely transiting to West African waters and had not committed any serious offense. 

“There were a total of nine crew members on board‚ there was no fish found but fishing equipment was found. The crew claim to have been traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they claim they were going to fish and claim to have the necessary permits to do so‚” Molapo said in a statement. 

Others disagreed. "It is going to be interesting to see how this is explained away. How are they going to explain transponders being switched off in the marine-protected areas? How are they going to explain eyewitness observations of giant spotlights pointed towards the backs of the boats as they were moving?” said online commentator David Viaene, who has been writing about the presence of Chinese fishing boats off the South African coast for some time. 

The Chinese distant waters fishing fleet has been getting government and media attention in many parts of the world in recent months. In March, the Argentine Navy fired on and sank a Chinese vessel allegedly found fishing in its EEZ. Days later, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel intervened to prevent Indonesian authorities from detaining a Chinese fishing boat in Indonesian waters, prompting a diplomatic protest and the threat of a UNCLOS legal claim. Indonesia has since signed an MoU with a Silicon Valley firm for satellite radio signal monitoring in an attempt to track and locate IUU fishing vessels, potentially including ships of the Chinese distant water fleet. 

Chinese fishing vessels are also a recurring concern in the dispute over China's claims in the South China Sea. Abraham Denmark, U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, recently alleged that “some of their fishing vessels . . . [are] acting in unprofessional manners in the vicinity of the military forces or fishing vessels of other countries in a way that’s designed to attempt to establish a degree of control around disputed features,” Denmark said. “It seems . . . these activities are designed to stay below the threshold of conflict, but gradually demonstrate and assert claims that other countries dispute.” The actions aren't sufficiently aggressive enough to trigger military rules of engagement – but they send a message, he said.