6th April 2015: Illegal toothfish vessel, Thunder, sinks

All officers and crew have abandoned the THUNDER.

Three crew members from the BOB BARKER have boarded the THUNDER.

The BOB BARKER boarding party were able to secure and remove a computer, mobile phones and charts from the THUNDER. The logbook seems to have been removed or destroyed. Secured evidence also included a whole toothfish now in the freezer of the BOB BARKER.

All evidence points to an intentional sinking. The depth of the sea is 4,000 meters. There will be no recovery.

Help ... Sea Shepherd launched a rescue operation for the poaching vessel, Thunder, after

Conservation group Sea Shepherd says it is trying to rescue at least 35 crew members who have abandoned a sinking vessel off the coast of West Africa.

The Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker had been tailing the Thunder for several months, as it is believed the ship is involved in illegal fishing in Antarctic waters.

Sea Shepherd’s Adam Burling said the Thunder issued a distress signal at about 4:00pm (AEST) on Monday afternoon.

“What we’ve done is we’ve launched our small boat to offer assistance,” he said.

“We’ve confirmed that the Thunder is sinking and that their 35 crew have abandoned the ship into life rafts.

“We have a second ship arriving within the next few hours, the Sam Simon, so between the two we feel we can safely accommodate the crew.”

Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Bob Barker, told ABC News 24: “We have a small boat in the water. They’re delivering water, food and medical advice to the Thunder crew.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has been informed, and is relaying information to rescue authorities in Nigeria.

The Thunder was issued with an Interpol notice for suspected illegal fishing activity in 2013.

Sea Shepherd have been following the ship as part of its Operation Icefish.

“We’ve been following the internationally-wanted poaching vessel Thunder for the past 110 days. They were at the limit of their fuel yesterday,” said Mr Hammarstedt.

“Our suspicion is that the captain of the Thunder, knowing he’s run out of fuel, has deliberately sunk his own boat in order to destroy any physical evidence.

“I’ve sent a couple of my crew onboard the Thunder — my chief engineer examined the engine room, which is completely underwater.

“We also notice they’ve opened several hatches — those that the water, once it’s filled one area of the ship, will quickly go into another and it’s clear, in my opinion, that this ship was sunk.”

He said he hoped Sea Shepherd would still see an end to the case.

“I was really hoping this was going to be a case that would be decided in a court of law and that’s why we were determined to hand the Thunder over to law enforcement authorities,” he said

“It seems like the captain of the Thunder felt the pressure was too much, that he would certainly see the inside of a jail cell and he’d rather see the evidence sink with his ship and that’s the situation we’re in.”

While onboard the sinking ship the Bob Barker crew confiscated mobile phones and computers to turn over to authorities as evidence of illegal fishing.

The captain of the Thunder had been in radio communication with the Bob Barker but had refused to give his name.

“I don’t think he’s terribly happy to be rescued by us,” Captain Hammarstedt said.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Nigeria had requested the Sea Shepherd vessel take charge of the rescue operation, and had put a call out to commercial shipping and naval resources to render assistance.