The flagship vessel of direct-action conservation group Sea Shepherd was in “high seas pursuit” on Thursday of one of six Chinese fishing boats that it claimed had been fishing illegally in the Indian Ocean.
The Steve Irwin – named after the late Australian wildlife expert – found the fishing boats while they were allegedly using illegal driftnets in international waters. The United Nations banned the use of driftnets over 2.5km long in the early 1990s.
Sea Shepherd said the fishing fleet scattered on being discovered and they were following one of the boats, which had been spotted in a different part of the ocean in January.
Siddharth Chakravarty, captain of the Steve Irwin, said: “Between finding the vessels first in January and now in March, we have seen a huge effort on the part of the vessels to cover up their illegality.
“They have moved their fishing grounds by 2,000 nautical miles, have changed their fishing patterns and have systematically switched off their tracking devices.
“In spite of their evasive actions, we have managed to find them. The next goal is to shut them down permanently.”
The conservationists used drones, reconnaissance missions by small boats and satellite tracking systems to find the Chinese boats.
Sea Shepherd said they had documented “at least 10 violations” of international and national regulations, adding that these had been reported to the relevant authorities.
“The Steve Irwin will continue to pursue the vessels, ensuring that they cannot resume their illegal operations, while at the same time aiding state-actors in enforcing laws,” the group said in a statement.
Until the UN ban, drift nets of up to 60km long were used, resulting in a large amount of bycatch of marine mammals, sea birds and turtles.
News of the Indian Ocean chase comes after an Argentinian coastguard vessel sank a Chinese trawler that it said had been fishing illegally in the South American country’s waters.
Warning shots were initially fired during the encounter on Monday, but the Argentinian coastguard said the Chinese boat then “performed manoeuvres designed to force a collision with the coastguard, putting at risk not only its own crew but coastguard personnel, who were then ordered to shoot parts of the vessel”.
Four crew were rescued by the coastguard while others were picked up by another Chinese vessel.