The capture of an illegal fishing vessel that has evaded capture multiple times is clearly a good thing. But this latest arrest has made headlines because the fishing vessel was found to be carrying an astounding 30 kilometers (18 miles) of gillnets.
The boat was detained in Indonesia, after having been chased around the Southern Ocean, where it was illegally fishing for a species of cod known as toothfish. It was doing this using up to 600 gillnets, which is horribly destructive and completely indiscriminate as the holes in the netting are so fine that not much can escape it.
No one knows how long the ship has been slipping in and out of international waters for, but it has evaded capture from at least two other countries in the past, where it was detained before escaping. In addition to the 600 illegal gillnets found on board, police also discovered eight different flags that they used to confuse authorities, including those from Sierra Leone, Togo, South Korea, Japan, and Namibia. It also turns out that it had changed its name at least six times.
“Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” said Indonesia’s Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, according to Reuters.
This is not the first time that Indonesia has seized illegal fishing vessels operating in their waters. In fact, the country has destroyed hundreds of boats since 2014 in order to protect their fisheries and fishing industry, including blowing up one massive illegal toothfish boat that had operated under at least 12 different names.
While Indonesia will likely destroy the boat, what will happen to the crew is not known at the moment. Fishing for Antarctic toothfish using gillnets is illegal under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, who govern such matters, but the boat was officially “stateless”. The men on board are Russian and Indonesian, although the latter lacked any travel documents and had been at sea for a long period without pay, making them effectively modern-day slaves.
The practice of using trafficked people to man these boats is not, unfortunately, unusual in this industry. According to investigations by Human Rights Watch, migrant fishermen from Southeast Asia are routinely trafficked onto fishing boats and then prevented from leaving, changing employers, or from being paid minimum wage (if they’re being paid at all that is). So when it comes to charging these people – including the Russians – no one is quite sure what will happen.