Illegal toothfish ship sought by Interpol blown up in Indonesia waters
PANGANDARAN, Indonesia – Indonesian authorities on Monday bombed the last major ship internationally wanted for years of illegally taking toothfish from southern waters, reiterating a strong message to would-be poachers who enter the country’s waters.
The navy seized the Nigeria-flagged Viking on Feb. 25 operating in waters off Tanjung Berakit in Riau Islands province south of Singapore. It was one of the half dozen ships dubbed the “Bandit 6” by the non-profit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which hunted the boats and was among those who alerted Indonesian officials when the Viking entered the country’s waters.
“This is to serve as a deterrent to others,” Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters. She posed on the beach with a group of navy officials, their fists raised in the air with the smoking boat behind them. “You may go freely in the rest of the world, but once entering Indonesia, this is the consequence.”
The Viking was operating as a so-called ghost ship, frequently changing its name and registry and not broadcasting any type of satellite signal so that its whereabouts could be tracked, said Siddharth Chakravarty, Sea Shepherd’s campaign leader, by satellite phone from a ship in the Indian Ocean.
“I wish there were more governments standing up for what they can do within their legal instruments and not worry about how international diplomacy is going to play out after that,” he said, adding that the Viking had been fishing for 13 years in Antarctica and spotted 18 times, but it always escaped.
The Viking was the last in operation of the “Bandit 6” known to be illegally catching toothfish in the Southern Ocean. Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, is popularly served in the United States, and fishing stocks are now better managed after years of plundering. However, U.S.-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends avoiding eating the fish unless it comes from certain areas.
The Viking’s Chilean captain and crew members have been detained in Indonesia. Interpol went after the ship in 2013 following a complaint from Norwegian authorities about illegal fishing in that country’s waters.
“This is just a first step,” said Stig Traavik, Norway ambassador to Indonesia who witnessed the bombing. “In the future, it will be much more difficult to do illegal fishing, and the fish catch for local fishermen will go up.”
Huge plumes of smoke and flames engulfed the Viking after the explosives were detonated. Part of the ship will be set up as a monument to mark the country’s fight against illegal fishing.
“Thirteen countries had been hunting FV Viking, the cross-country illegal fishing boat. Indonesia managed to catch it,” Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo wrote on Twitter.
The country has taken a tough stance against illegal fishing since Widodo took office in 2014. Pudjiastuti has seized and blown up around 150 illegal fishing boats from a number of countries after declaring a fishing moratorium for foreign vessels.
Last year, The Associated Press exposed a slave island in a remote part of eastern Indonesia where fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand had been trafficked and forced to fish with little or no pay for years at a time. Pudjiastuti responded by ordering the men rescued from the island. Since then, more than 2,000 men have been freed and returned home.
Associated Press writer Margie Mason contributed to this report from Jakarta, Indonesia.