Australian Customs nabs notorious illegal toothfish vessel

Australian authorities have pounced on a notorious illegal fishing vessel suspected of illegally fishing for toothfish in the southern oceans.

The 67-metre vessel, known as the Perlon, was boarded on Wednesday by officers from Customs and Border Protection and the Australian Defence Force about 2900 nautical miles west of the Australian mainland, in the region west of the Cocos Islands.

Revelations about the boarding came as Trade Minister Andrew Robb told The Australian the 12-nation trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement presented an opportunity to strengthen regional efforts to tackle illegal fishing and overfishing.

The Australian this week revealed that one of the nation’s most senior maritime policemen had raised concerns organised crime gangs were operating on the high seas with virtual impunity, pillaging valuable fish, abusing crew members and transporting drugs, weapons and other illegal items across the oceans.

Inspector Joe McNulty, the regional controller of the NSW police marine fleet, said international laws prevented officers from boarding foreign vessels suspected of involvement in such activity outside Australian waters except in very limited circumstances, which made law enforcement very difficult.

Mr Robb said the TPP could include enforceable commitments for countries to take to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, such as port state measures and those to address the transhipment at sea of fish caught through illegal activities.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the boarding of the Perlon highlighted the Abbott government’s commitment to southern ocean protection.

The vessel has been in the sights of law enforcement agencies since 2002, and since that time has been registered in Nigeria, Mongolia, Togo and Uruguay and has changed name five times.

“This is a global issue and Australia is committed to combating illegal fishers and the crime syndicates behind them,” Mr Dutton said.

“We are targeting these ships and we will continue to pursue them and seek to deny them any safe haven.”

The boarding of the Perlon came after another notorious illegal fishing vessel, the Kunlun, was detained in Thailand in March following action by Australian officials.

Another boat, the Viking was also detained in March in Malaysia and the master of that vessel has been prosecuted, and a fourth vessel, the Thunder, sank off the coast of Africa in April after it was pursued by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for 110 days.

“Clearly, it’s been a bad year for illegal fishers seeking to plunder the southern ocean, and this is another excellent result of Australia’s efforts to protect our marine environment,” Mr Dutton said.

He said the government would investigate the owners of the Perlon and would share information with other relevant nations in an effort to arrest the vessel when it tried to enter a port.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Richard Colbeck said Australia was committed to working with its international partners to stamp out illegal fishing.

“Protecting marine resources and the interests of those who fish within internationally agreed rules is a priority of this Government,” he said.

“The strong results we have seen this year are clear evidence that the international community will no longer accept unsustainable fishing by illegal operators.”

Australian officers who boarded the Perlon, which was first spotted by a maritime patrol aircraft, witnessed a significant amount of frozen fish on board suspected to be toothfish.

-taken from