Argentine Navy Captures Chinese Vessel Fishing Illegally

Argentine Navy Captures Chinese Vessel Fishing Illegally

By Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo
May 19, 2020

Argentine Navy service members captured a Chinese ship that was fishing illegally in the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), amid growing concern over predatory fishing in the South Atlantic.

On May 5, the Offshore Patrol Vessel ARA Bouchard was conducting surveillance in Argentine maritime waters when it sighted the Chinese vessel Hong Pu 16 fishing illegally off the coast of Puerto Madryn, in Patagonia. The Chinese vessel (specializing in squid fishing) had its identification system off and its fishing lights on.

Radar images show almost 100 foreign vessels anchored at mile 201; these boats enter the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone to fish for squid. (Video/YouTube, Sea Captain Alberto Mendoza)

“After repeated attempts by radio and flares to communicate, the fishing boat headed for international waters,” the Argentine Navy said in a press release. The Chinese ship sped up, seeking refuge among foreign fishing vessels anchored at mile 201, the boundary for international waters.

Service members then began to pursue the offending vessel, according to legal regulations in force, urging the crew to stop and allow boarding and inspection. After nearly three hours, the Chinese vessel allowed Argentinian authorities on board to confirm the criminal offense.

“The Hong Pu 16 had 700 kilograms of fresh fish and 300 tons of frozen fish inside the ship’s hold,” the Navy said.

Argentine Naval Prefecture

On April 28, Coast Guard GC-27 Prefecto Fique of the Argentine Naval Prefecture sighted the Chinese vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 668, fishing about 390 kilometers off the coast of Puerto Madryn.

“The vessel had its fishing lights on, with its fishing gear deployed and in operation, so we implemented the deterrence protocol to make it cease the activity and allow inspection,” the Naval Prefecture said in a press release.

The Argentine crew conducted repeated radio calls, as well as sound and visual signals, to make contact with the Chinese vessel’s captain. “However, the ship turned its fishing lights off and headed for international waters,” the Prefecture reported.

Service members pursued the vessel, with the support of the maritime patrol aircraft PA-22. The fishing vessel continued sailing toward open waters, despite the Coast Guard’s repeated warnings, following protocol based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, after “an operation that lasted several hours” and amid a “really strong storm of wind and waves,” the Argentine troops stopped the pursuit. “We decided to terminate the operation to safeguard the lives of both ships’ crews,” the Prefecture said. Authorities initiated an administrative and judiciary summary for breaking the Federal Fishing Regulations and resisting authority within the EEZ.

Chinese fleets reported

Alberto Mendoza, captain of the Argentine fishing vessel Don Pedro, posted a video on April 25 showing 95 foreign vessels fishing squid illegally. “The ships are operating illegally in an area 24 nautical miles long and 6 nautical miles wide [44 by 11 km],” Mendoza said.

The following day, the Argentine Interchambers Fishing Industry association, which brings together entities of the sector, sent Argentine President Alberto Fernández a letter reporting the illegal activity. The document warns about the serious situation that foreign fishing fleets, “mostly Asian and mainly Chinese,” create.