Chilean Navy Increases Surveillance Due to Chinese Fishing Fleet’s Threat
By Juan Delgado/Diálogo March 30, 2021
As the massive Chinese fishing fleet continues to advance, with practices of illegal and indiscriminate exploitation of maritime resources sparking concern on the Pacific coast of South America, the Chilean Navy has implemented a heavy surveillance protocol in December 2020.
On December 14, the Chilean Navy’s General Directorate of the Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (Directemar, in Spanish) reported in a statement that a total of 432 Chinese-flagged fishing vessels and 17 logistics support vessels were sailing off the country’s coasts. “Of the previously mentioned [vessels], 77 are already in transit within the area of national responsibility, and only 11 of those are transiting through the Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], without using their gear or carrying out fishing activities,” Directemar said.
The Navy carried out daily operations with naval and air units to protect its territorial waters, the institution said in several statements. On December 4, the Navy announced that a Casa P-295 aircraft and the ocean patrol vessel (OPV) Cabo Odger carried out surveillance operations on some of the fishing boats that were located off the Arica y Parinacota region. A P-68 aircraft with the Fifth Naval Zone conducted flyovers above the fishing vessels that were sailing in the EEZ in southern Chile, while the OPV Comandante Toro, with air support, inspected 10 vessels that were sailing in territorial waters near a protected marine park, the Chilean news portal BiobioChile reported on December 20.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources within their EEZ, meaning that Chinese vessels can sail but cannot fish in these waters.
The vessels, which arrived in the Galápagos Islands in mid-July 2020 and sailed toward the Peruvian coast before reaching Chile, raised concerns about their fishing practices, which various marine conservation organizations, such as Oceana, describe as “looting.” On several occasions, the ships turned off their positioning systems, which could mean that they were conducting illegal activities, the BBC reported on December 15.
According to the Stimson Center, a U.S.-based international relations and security research center, the Chinese fleet is used to meet the growing demand for seafood, assert territorial control over the South China Sea, and support the Chinese government’s economic interests related to the Belt and Road Initiative.
“The [Chinese fishing fleet] movements, in addition to constituting a risk of species depredation in the South Atlantic, and therefore an internationally penalized crime, provide information on logistics access and waterways that the expeditionary fleets of the People’s Liberation Army Navy will be using during the next decade in [pursuit of] their interoceanic navigation objectives in the American hemisphere,” Sergio Cesarin, coordinator of the Center for Asia Pacific and India Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina, told Diálogo.
The [Chinese fishing fleet] movements, in addition to constituting a risk of species depredation in the South Atlantic, and therefore an internationally penalized crime, provide information on logistics access and waterways that the expeditionary fleets of the People’s Liberation Army Navy will be using during the next decade in [pursuit of] their interoceanic navigation objectives in the American hemisphere,” Sergio Cesarin, coordinator of the Center for Asia Pacific and India Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero.
Illegal fishing is the sixth most lucrative criminal economy worldwide, with an estimated revenue of $15 to 36 billion, according to a 2017 report by Global Financial Integrity, a nongovernmental organization that investigates illicit financial flows.
China’s fishing fleet, with about 17,000 vessels, is the world’s largest by far, and has the worst rating for illegal fishing, according to international organization InSight Crime, which specializes in threats to security in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Although it was a long-standing problem, the Chinese fishing fleet became a particular concern after 2016. Since then, it has prompted serious annual alerts in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina,” InSight Crime reported.
In Chile alone, illegal fishing represents an estimated annual cost of $300 million for the country, according to a 2020 report by AthenaLab, a Chilean defense and security research center.