INTERPOL-supported investigation into illegal fishing leads to prosecution

The global fight against fisheries crime has scored a major success, with the convictions of three crew members of a vessel subject to an INTERPOL Purple Notice for illegal fishing.

A court in Sao Tomé and Principe found the captain, chief engineer and second engineer of the Thunder guilty of various illegal fishing charges. The vessel, which sank off the coast of the West African nation in April, was the focus of multiple international investigations into illegal toothfishing activities.

The Thunder was the subject of an INTERPOL Purple Notice issued in 2013 at the request of New Zealand supported by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, to warn countries worldwide of the vessel’s participation in illegal fishing and the methods being used to attempt to conceal its identity and activities from law enforcement.

INTERPOL has since supported investigations in at least 15 member countries into the global activities of the Thunder, other vessels suspected to be part of the same illegal fishing fleet, and the operating network which owns the fleet.

An investigative task force, comprised of 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States – was established in 2012 to facilitate exchange intelligence and information on the Thunder and its network.

Through its Project Scale initiative to combat fisheries crimes, INTERPOL provided technical support to the Sao Tomé authorities in securing evidence in the case, and also facilitated the transfer of physical evidence and statements collected by the environmental group Sea Shepherd to the Sao Tomé authorities, via German law enforcement authorities, to aid the investigation.

Experts from Canada and INTERPOL assisted in evaluating the evidence gathered to determine its potential value for ongoing investigations in Sao Tomé, Spain and Australia, among others.

“Transnational fisheries crimes are complex and far-reaching, but the successful outcome of the Thunder case demonstrates how, when countries work together to share intelligence and connect investigations, these criminals can be caught and their networks dismantled,” said David Higgins, head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit.

INTERPOL Purple Notices have also been issued for four other illegal fishing vessels – the Kunlun, Snake, Songhua and Yongding – believed to be operated by the same Spanish-based network.

In August, INTERPOL held a regional investigative analytical case meeting in Singapore where investigators from Southeast Asia and Spain exchanged information on ongoing cases related to all five Purple Notice vessels, and the Organization continues to support its member countries conducting investigations into the illegal fishing fleet and its operators.

The announcement of the Thunder convictions comes as member countries gather in Cape Town, South Africa for the 4th Meeting of the INTERPOL Fisheries Crime Working Group.