A Uruguayan prosecutor closed the case of the Chinese-flagged fishing vessel that the Uruguayan Navy had captured, following a chase, for evading arrest and engaging in alleged illegal fishing activities. The Communications Division of the Attorney General’s Office said July 27 that the case was closed due to lack of evidence of illegal fishing and communication problems as a result of language barriers, Uruguayan newspaper El País reported.
Environmentalists and government officials, however, celebrated the capture of the Chinese vessel and the actions of the Navy as a step forward for Uruguay in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“It would be very positive if the fight against this scourge really began,” Milko Schvartzman, an Argentine marine conservation specialist and member of the nongovernmental organization Círculo de Políticas Ambientales, told Diálogo. In recent years, a Chinese fishing fleet with hundreds of vessels has been plundering the region, chocking local governments with its aggressive fishing practices and illegal operations.
Following the capture of the Chinese vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on July 4, Uruguayan Defense Minister Javier Garcia congratulated the crew of the Uruguayan Navy vessel ROU 23 Maldonado for a swift interdiction. “It’s a good thing to know that we have men and women with capabilities like you to exercise sovereignty at sea and enforce what is the law within our territory,” Minister Garcia said in a statement.
In its investigation, the Navy’s National Naval Prefecture assured that the fishing vessel did not comply with the “order to stop” which resulted in its detention, Uruguayan newspaper El Observadorreported. “The sailors said that they had not planned to arrest the fishing vessel —despite the fact that the operation had been initiated because they believed it was fishing illegally — but that they had to do so because of the failure to comply with the order,” the newspaper added.
Fight against illegal fishing
The operation to capture the Chinese vessel began on July 1, when the Navy Fleet Command’s Tactical Operations Center detected several vessels in the EEZ allegedly engaging in illegal fishing, Uruguay’s Defense Ministry said viaTwitter.
The Naval Aviation B-200 T aircraft made a reconnaissance flight and detected two jigging vessels (used for squid fishing) 150 nautical miles southeast of Punta del Este. “The aircraft continued making surveillance flights during the day identifying that the fishing gear was deployed, and at night thatlights used for fishing were on, in a case of suspected criminal activity,” the Ministry of Defense said.
The ROU 23 arrived July 3, where it sighted the Chinese fishing boat Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606. “After approaching, aninspection crew checked the vessel, confirming that it did indeed have fishing gear,” the Ministry of Defense added. Thevessel, however, fled upon being informedthat it would be boarded.
“Thus, began a pursuit that took all night Sunday [July 3] ending in the morning hours [of July 4], when finally [the crew] agreed to be boarded,” the Defense Ministry said.
Illegal fishing in Uruguayan jurisdictional waters is among the Navy’s main preoccupations. The United States has voiced its concern about the issue, warningon several occasions about illegal fishingactivities in the EEZ and expressing its support to combat it, El Observadorreported.
Initiatives in the region
In recent years, several Chinese vessels have been caught fishing in Latin American countries’ jurisdictional waters. For instance, in February 2016, the Argentine Naval Prefecture chased the Chinese fishing vessel Huali 8, which was fishing illegallyin Argentine waters.
The Huali 8 fled and had an international warrant for its arrest. Two months later, it was arrested in Indonesian waters. Its captain was brought before the Argentine justice, and the ship owning company was sentenced to pay a fine for the fishing infraction.
In 2017, Argentine authorities captured another Chinese fishing vessel in its jurisdictional waters and issued aninternational arrest warrants for five other Chinese fishing vessels. That same year, the Ecuadorian Navy captured the Chinese-flagged vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
Among the vessel’s 300 tons of catch were hammerhead and silky sharks, “vulnerable marine fauna species protected by the state of Ecuador,” Rear Admiral Amilcar Villavicencio Palacios, director of the Ecuadorian Navy’s Maritime Interests, saidin an August 14, 2017 statement.
“In 2018 another Chinese fishing vessel was caught in the Argentine EEZ, another one in 2019, and in 2020, two Chinese fishing vessels were caught,” Schvartzman said. “The Chinese fleet is not only the one with the most incidents, but it’s the fleet with the largest presence in the area.”
According to the expert, an estimated 70 percent of the fishing fleet found in the outer edge of South American countries’EEZ is of Chinese origin. “In the waters surrounding the Galápagos, nearly 90 percent [of the fishing vessels] are Chinese,” Schvartzman concluded.