In troubled waters: 10 Chinese vessels found fishing illegally in Maharashtra
Ten Chinese fishing vessels, which sought “emergency shelter” in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra during Cyclone Vayu, are under the Centre’s scanner for allegedly fishing illegally in Indian waters . The investigation into the case began on Monday, and more than 200 crew members on board are being called for questioning to decide the course of action.
According to the Indian authorities, the boats belong to the Fu Yuan Yu fleet, owned by Dongxinglong Ocean Fishing Company Ltd, based in Fu Zhou, Fujian province in China, and had entered the Indian waters on June 7, after taking permission from the Indian Coast Guard. However, on June 9, local fishermen complained that they were involved in fishing activities. “Shelter can’t be denied during cyclone emergencies like Cyclone Vayu. Using this opportunity, the 10 vessels got involved in illegal operations within India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – coastal waters where a country can claim exclusive rights for fishing and other economic activities,” said a senior official from the department of fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. “The matter is being investigated through agencies and the Coast Guard. Deterrent action will be taken against all 10 vessels under violations of the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation) of Fishing by Foreign Vessels Act, 1981.”
The Indian Coast Guard said two boats have been brought to the Dabhol creek for further investigation, while the remaining eight vessels are anchored two nautical miles off the coast.
These were the only trawlers fishing, amid the monsoon restriction. Ten vessels can fish around 80,000 tonnes of marine life in a month.
Ganesh B Nakhawa, chairman, National Purse Seine Fishermen Welfare Association, said the boats are equipped with 500,000 KW of LED lights for purse seine, squid jigging and pelagic trawling. “The fleet also has other damaging illegal gear on board such as drifting gill nets, bottom trawl nets and dolphin attracting devices etc. Such vessels are banned worldwide by many fisheries commission and are under investigation of many international agencies,” he said. “The crew hails from Indonesia, Philippines and China. Of the 37 crew members of the two vessels who were questioned, the passports of 19 have expired. These vessels are depleting the Indian EEZ of important fish such as tuna, marlins, squids, mackerels and also causing damage to the ecology by targeting protected marine species such as sharks, turtles and dolphins.” Rajendra Jadhav, joint commissioner, Maharashtra fisheries department, said, “After confirming the Chinese trawlers were carrying out fishing activity in EEZ off the Maharashtra coast, we wrote a detailed letter to the Centre. The Centre further directed all agencies to take action. The fishermen said they had come for shelter, but fishing in EEZ area is illegal for international vessels. We are keeping a close watch on them.”
An Indian Coast Guard official said, “Apart from just fishery related violations, we are investigating the nationality of these fishermen, their documents, proper customs clearance and other suspected threats.”
HT has a copy of letters issued by the Centre and Intelligence Bureau ordering a probe,
Fu Yuan Yu vessels have been named in illegal fishing cases in the past.
According to the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) Risk Intelligence, these vessels have been involved in illegal fishing for tuna in the southern Indian Ocean and South African waters in 2016.
“Very little is known about the Chinese company, its ownership, management, movements and activities of the “Fu Yuan Yu” fleet in the high seas,” read a report by IUU Risk Intelligence from May 29, 2016.
Meanwhile, HT found the Chinese company that owns the vessels did not have a website or a functional telephone number listed on international data portals with details of the vessels.