Govt to sanction Spanish companies and crew for pirate fishing

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAGRAMA) has agreed to start Operation Sparrow disciplinary process, once the analysis and classification of thousands of documents that have been collected during the development of this operation is completed.

This operation, which is unprecedented internationally, was carried out thanks to the reform of the State’s Marine Fisheries Act, adopted in December 2014.

During the months of April and May, the control and inspection services of the General Fisheries Secretariat analyzed, ordered and classified more than three thousand documents gathered at the headquarters of several companies based in Galicia, under judicial authorization.

The agreement of the start of the disciplinary proceedings includes the accusation of the alleged operation of four vessels on the list of illegal fishing of the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources in the Antarctic (CCAMLR) as well as the development of business, trade, corporate and financial procedures related to their activity. They are the vessels Kunlun, Songhua, Yongding and Tiantai.

MAGRAMA accuses several companies for alleged direct management of various dummy companies, based in third countries, which are in charge or manage the operation and ownership of such vessels, or for the exercise of commercial, trade, corporate and financial activities directly related to the activity of these vessels.

It also accuses several Spanish citizens of the alleged performance of commercial and financial activities that are directly related to the activities of the above mentioned illegal vessels as responsible for the mentioned dummy firms.

In total, the Ministry has claimed 19 very serious offenses, which have been perpetrated non-stop, against the State Marine Fisheries Act, which are individually punishable with fines of up to EUR 600,000 and with penalties such as fishing activity disqualification.

The EU regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, expressly prohibits national firms from the Member States to perform such activities so the responsibility would fall on Spanish companies or citizens, who allegedly performed them through the different interposed companies, based in Belize, Panama and Switzerland.

At the same time, the Ministry will imminently open the disciplinary proceedings for 50 Spanish crew members for their enrollment in such vessels in recent years, against the express prohibition from the EU regulation to combat illegal unreported undeclared fishing (IUU) as well as for failing to inform the General Secretariat of Fisheries about the enrollment in command positions in vessels having third country flags.

In addition, in response to evidence about the alleged commission of multiple violations for exercising unlicensed fishing activities or catching species in international waters without authorization, the Ministry will draw the attention of the competent flag States to punish such offenses, to the alleged offenders.

To avoid the impunity of the vessels operating under flags of convenience, and if within three months from the official communication from Spain, set by the national rules, there is no response or no procedures have been started, the Ministry will initiate the relevant disciplinary proceedings for debugging the appropriate responsibilities.

Similarly, the information gathered in Operation Sparrow related to the distribution nets of illegal catches through companies based in third countries, is to inform the authorities in those countries for them to take the appropriate measures to put an end to these distribution nets.

In addition, MAGRAMA legal services are studying possible legal actions to tackle those companies who have offered service or support for the illegal activities of those vessels, such as the supply of fuel and other supporting materials, or financial services or insurance of ships and cargoes.

The Ministry appreciates the close collaboration of some countries from the beginning of the proceedings, in particular New Zealand and Australia, and the constant collaboration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and the Spanish embassy net.

Moreover, MAGRAMA expresses the urgent need for progress in the process of ratification of the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to combat IUU fishing. And it ensures that it will continue to act with determination to prevent IUU fishing products from entering the EU market as well as to put an end to the impunity from illegal operators.