While under arrest by Chinese authorities, the STS-50, a vessel IUU listed by CCAMLR for its role as a carrier vessel for toothfish poachers, fled to the Western Indian Ocean. Using false information and fake documents, the vessel sought bunkering and repairs from ports in the region, where it was thought to be operating as a fishing vessel. With all FISH-i ports on high alert, bunkering//refueling was impossible and the vessel headed for Asia. Using automatic identification system (AIS) tracking FISH-i was able to follow the movements of the STS-50, leading to its ultimate interception and arrest by the Indonesian Navy.

The FISH-i Africa Task Force has worked together on over thirty investigations since it was established in 2012. Bringing together eight countries of the Western Indian Ocean (Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania) FISH-i has developed a model of working that clearly demonstrates the value of coastal states sharing information and intelligence on fishing vessels and taking collective action. This case has, for the first time, involved wider cooperation and information sharing beyond the region, resulting in effective enforcement action against the STS-50.

FISH-i Africa Investigation No.16 highlights the part played by actors on both sides of the Indian Ocean, including: the routine port control verification by fisheries officials in Madagascar that identified the STS-50 as an IUU listed vessel; AIS analysis by experts at Trygg Mat Tracking that enabled FISH-i to locate the STS-50, leading to its inspection by Mozambican authorities, and then tracking of the vessel to its detention in Indonesia; and, document verification and due diligence that identified forged documents had been used to obtain a Togo flag. The Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centers in Madagascar and Singapore were vital in ensuring the speedy distribution of intelligence information.

The FISH-i Africa Investigations series contains evidence of what FISH-i has seen, uncovered and suspected over the past four years. Sixteen of these investigations have been documented to demonstrate the scale and complexity of illegal operations and to support evidence based solutions and responses.

To address issues raised in the case of the STS-50, FISH-i Africa calls for:

  • Physical measures to be in place to prevent vessels absconding when under investigation, or when detained in port.
  • Photographs of fishing vessels to be made accessible/publicly available.
  • Mandatory unique vessel identification globally, e.g. IMO numbers, to make it more difficult for vessels to hide their identity.
  • Flag States to conduct adequate due diligence when registering vessels.
  • AIS to be linked to vessel identity, be made mandatory and become tamper-proof.
  • Procedures be implemented for improved Inter-agency cooperation between fisheries and related authorities such as port and maritime.

Download FISH-i Africa Investigation No.16: Regional and international cooperation nets illegal fishing vessel here.