On March 2, the Argentine government announced the creation of the Maritime Joint Command (CCM, in Spanish), which will report to the Armed Forces. The CCM’s goal will be to monitor, control, and preserve territorial waters and maritime resources, as well as to combat foreign vessels’ predatory fishing practices.
“National maritime spaces and the South Atlantic constitute an area of strategic value due to their natural resource reserves, for being an international trade route, and for constituting a natural gateway for national interests in the Antarctic continent,” says the Argentine Ministry of Defense’s Resolution 244/2021.
The CCM will be in charge of preparing tactical plans on maritime and riverine surveillance and control, developing a system to enable integration and processing of gathered information. Until the CCM structure is completed — no later than December 31 — the Argentine Navy Training and Enlistment Command will assume these functions and tasks.
“The CCM […] will have at its disposal the human and material, naval, aeronautical, and aerospace resources that are required,” said Argentine Army Colonel José María Colombo, head of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Department of Institutional Communication and Public Affairs.
Each year, a fleet of foreign fishing vessels, mostly from China, sails along South American coasts, threatening the marine resources in the region. According to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, the involvement of Chinese vessels in squid fishing in the region has grown steadily over the last two decades.
In mid-July 2020, the Ecuadorian government raised alarms after detecting a mega fleet of about 300 vessels, most of them from China, near the Galápagos Marine Reserve. The fleet, which was accused of turning off its GPS trackers to fish in protected waters, continued its journey south, along the Peruvian and Chilean coasts, to Argentina.
Two months prior, the environmental organization Greenpeace had already warned about “the illegal entry of almost 100 East Asian fishing vessels to Argentina’s exclusive economic zone” (EEZ), “coming for squid-fishing.” The organization estimates that these vessels, some of which are up to 70 meters long, can capture 50 tons of squid per night.
During a press conference on March 9, 2021, Argentine Minister of Defense Agustín Rossi said that three Chinese vessels were captured in 2020. One of them was the ship Hong Pu 16, which was fishing illegally in Argentina’s EEZ on May 5, 2020, when the Argentine Navy captured it off the city of Puerto Madryn, in Patagonia. The Chinese-flagged ship had its GPS system off and was carrying 700 kilograms of fresh fish and 300 tons of frozen fish inside the ship’s hold.
“They fish 200 miles offshore toward the east; they do not fish to the west. And when they fish in international waters, Argentina’s jurisdictional power is null. We cannot do anything when they are at the limit […], no matter how close they are to the Argentine Sea,” Rossi said. “There is a debate around this matter in Latin American countries. I think it is possible to seek some joint actions to move forward on this issue.”