IUU toothfish vessel, Kunlun, could sail with new Captain

The epic pursuit of marine poachers by the Sea Shepherd has taken a new turn in Thailand with the ship that took an illegal haul of toothfish before fleeing from Antarctic waters set to regain its cargo and sail on.

The ancient vessel Taishan, at present anchored off Phuket, has a new captain and preparations are being made to depart, Phuketwan learned this week.

Its cargo of 182 tonnes of illegal toothfish, being stored in the south Thailand province of Songkhla, is likely to be trucked back to Phuket and reloaded onto the ship before it sails, officials say they have been told.

In a dramatic chase earlier this year, a Sea Shepherd vessel shadowed the Taishan from Antarctic waters until it was forced to a halt off Thailand, where local authorities intervened.

Now the grand game with huge amounts of valuable fish at stake is about to begin again, officials in Thailand believe.

Originally destined for Hong Kong, news that the protected toothfish may soon be on the move once more is likely to trigger a reaction from international conservationists.

Back in March, the Taichan – a ship that is regularly renamed and was previously a rustbucket known as the Kunlun – entered Thai waters. Customs officials were told it carried a cargo of sea bass.

‘Inspection showed they were lying,” the Customs official said. ”The cargo is toothfish [also known as snowfish].”

The apprehension of the vessel came about in a strange fashion – and the future of the toothfish could become even stranger.

It’s believed the Command Centre for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), recently created to deal with illegal fishing in Thailand, may not be able to act because the incident preceded the centre’s creation.

When the Taichan arrived of Thailand it was to deliver to hospital a Spanish crewman who had attempted suicide. He was treated and flew home several days later.

By halting off Phuket, the ship and its illegal cargo appeared to be on a suicide mission of its own. However, a brokerage service carried the cargo south to Songkhla where about 10 million baht has been handed over in the time it has been in storage.

Officials on Phuket questioned the qualifications of the Peruvian captain, who has since flown home and been replaced by a Spanish captain, who meets the standards.

The vessel claimed to be Indonesian-registered, but officials at the Indonesia embassy found this wasn’t true and ordered the 21 crew not to work on the ship.

However, the vessel is not on a blacklist at Immigration and in theory, could sail with a new crew once its cargo reloaded at any time.

Meanwhile, the Taishan remains bobbing off Phuket’s deep sea port, with just a skeleton crew and its new captain.

-taken from Phuketwan.com