Thai authorities seize and prosecute seven foreign fishing ships

Seven fishing vessels were nabbed in the nets of Thailand’s campaigns against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and modern day slavery as authorities seized the ships and launched prosecutions against captains, owners and recruitment agents for falsifying documents and trafficking in persons.

The captains, owners and agent were charged with a variety of offenses including human trafficking of foreign crewmembers. The ships were caught during an inspection at the port in Phuket province along Thailand’s southern Andaman Sea coast, where they had docked ostensibly for repairs.

All the vessels were flying under the flag of Bolivia, a South American country, but vessels often fly the flags of nations that are not the nationality of the owners or their true home countries.

The Marine Department in Phuket contacted maritime authorities in Bolivia who said the vessels had not been registered there, nor had obtained any fishing licenses from Bolivia. That led to charges of falsifying documents and a deeper inspection of the ships, their owners and crews that resulted in additional charges being filed for human trafficking and other offenses.

Thailand has been waging determined campaigns against IUU fishing, human trafficking and labor abuse. Numerous laws have been passed, international conventions signed on to, inspection and enforcement agencies created and strengthened, special courts have been established to punish violators and prison sentences have been handed down.

Nonetheless, despite making gains against all three problems, results have been mixed. Criminals learn to find weaknesses or loopholes in legal and enforcement regimens to stay a step head of government and law enforcement. The government has pledged to continue adjusting and updating its measures to respond to the changes in criminal tactics and keep striving to eliminate the problems.

The seizure and arrests were a good example of cooperation between several agencies that have roles in fighting IUU fishing, human trafficking and labor abuse.

The Marine Office found the initial violation of falsified documents, and informed the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF),which directed other agencies to inspect the vessels and take any necessary actions. The police issued arrest warrants for the captains and impounded the vessels while filing criminal charges against the captains, representatives of the owners and the recruitment agent.

The Fisheries Department examined the ships’ logbooks and Vessel Monitoring Systems. The Customs Office was called in to examine the catch, but no catch was found.  And the CCCIF began providing humanitarian assistance to the trafficked Indonesians and Filipinos.

At present, Thailand has strictly carried out her obligations under Port State Measures Agreement by examining data on fishing vessels and foreign transshipment vessels intending to land their catches at the designated ports in Thailand even before they enter Thai waters. Thailand has also implemented an effective traceability system with the full cooperation of the flag states, coastal states and port states to ensure that all aquatic animals landed in Thailand do not come from IUU fishing.