Eight Gambia and Senegal flagged vessels, with Chinese nationals on board, were escorted to Seychelles’ Port Victoria on Wednesday for relevant local authorities to carry out necessary procedures of identification, said a high Seychelles government official.
As four of the vessels could not be identified, the whole fleet was invited into Port Victoria so as to complete the verification process.
The fisheries minister, Jean-Francois Ferrari, told a press conference “We received information from one of the captains on the vessels that they came to Providence because waters were choppy and they were seeking shelter from bad weather. They informed us that they came from West Africa, in the region of Senegal and Gambia, and came into the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal, and were going to Madagascar. We found that this information was correct when we verified the tracking system,” said Ferrari.
The Seychelles Coast Guard carried out surveillance flights and identified eight trawlers. At this point, Seychelles’ president, Wavel Ramkalawan, asked for a Coast Guard vessel – Topaz – to establish a presence near Providence. Officers of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) also followed and boarded the vessels.
“The officers did not find any evidence of illegal fishing being done by the vessels, however upon seeking information on the identity of the vessels, the authorities found out that information for some vessels was incomplete,” he continued.
“This is not an arrest but rather a legitimate demand by the authorities of Seychelles to carry out the necessary procedures,” outlined Ferrari.
He added that, as the other four vessels have been identified to have been registered in China, Seychelles has already notified the Chinese Embassy in the island nation.
“We want to do the investigation as fast as possible and should everything be in order, the vessels can be on their way. We are also liaising with Madagascar as the vessels were unable to provide us with a fishing agreement or license showing that they are authorized to fish in that area,” said Ferrari.
He said that if the four remaining vessels are not identified, it will become a legal case.
“Around the world, there are what we call ghost ships, vessels that have not been registered anywhere. They sell fish they have caught to other vessels at sea. If they are not registered anywhere, then we need to signal this and take the necessary actions,” he continued.
During is investigations, SFA will also verify the fishing equipment on board as there is certain equipment that is banned for use in the world and in the Indian Ocean, such as drift nets.
Ferrrari stressed that Seychelles does not tolerate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and will do the necessary, should there be a need, to raise a red flag so as to protect fish stock and make sure that all international laws are respected.
Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, has a vast Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.4 million square kilometers which makes surveillance at sea a challenge for law enforcers.