The world’s largest fish factory ship has been seized in Peru after its crew was accused of acting illegally.
The Damanzaihao – dubbed a notorious pirate “super-fishing” vessel by marine activists – has been arrested, stripped of its flag and prevented from leaving the country’s waters.
The ship is being held for 70 days for allegedly polluting the sea and for criminal fishing charges spanning from South America to New Zealand, according to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The charity said the colossal 50,000-ton “pirate” ship can process up to 547,000 tons of fish a year, and its detention should help curb the destruction of marine ecosystems across the planet.
Sea Shepherd’s president, Captain Paul Watson, said: “We will work hard to ensure that other potential flag states follow suit should the Damanzaihao ever be allowed to leave Peruvian waters. If it ends up on the other side of the world, I hope it is in the form of paperclips, after it has been scrapped”.
In 2014, the vessel’s mackerel-fishing licence was stripped following a collapse in stocks of Pacific mackerel, which are used as feed for the salmon-farming industry.
The government of Peru issued the vessel in 2016 with a multi-million-pound fine for illegal fishing, which has since gone unpaid, and, in the time that it has been anchored in port in the country, the Damanzaihao has been accused of polluting Peruvian waters through the illegal discharge of fluids and effluents.
The Marine Registry of Belize has now revoked the Damanzaihao’s registration for allegedly failing to notify the Belize authorities of its record of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, it said in a statement.
The Damanzaihao was once China Fishery’s flagship vessel, processing vast quantities of mackerel off the coasts of South America.
Sea Shepherd says that with a capacity of twice the world's quota of mackerel, the vessel was engaged in overfishing, particularly of mackerel stocks in the South Pacific.
"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is destroying the world’s oceans. It contributes to the overfishing of stocks around the globe by circumventing management systems and undermining the sustainability of all fisheries, the communities that depend on them, and food security," a spokeswoman said.
"The large number of developing countries that depend on fisheries for food security and export income are particularly vulnerable."
Last week Peruvian authorities launched a criminal investigation into China Fishery Group, the ship’s owner, and detained the vessel in El Ferrol Bay, Chimbote.
It is thought the new fines for the pollution could be up to $7m (£5.2m).
The arrest renders the vessel stateless, according to Sea Shepherd, which has been working to get it de-listed in the region. The 36 Russian crew are still on board.
Belize was previously “red carded” by the European Commission for its lack of commitment to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, although that status has since been lifted.
Peruvian prosecutors and Sea Shepherd are preparing to defend in court the detention of the Damanzaihao during the criminal investigation.
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