Pirate Driftnetting Report:
They're Still Out There ...

(Article from Earthtrust "President's Letter," December 1995)

As you'll recall, ET's biggest victory was its decade-long fight against deep-sea driftnets, which culminated in two United Nations resolutions and in U.S. laws which have greatly cut back this horrendously destructive fishing method. (In fact, in terms of biomass and individual animals saved, it was probably the biggest environmental victory in history.)

Since then, we have done our best to operate the "DriftNetwork," a network of people around the world dedicated to "busting" illegal driftnetters when they do show up. Ironically, the previous victory appeared so complete that we received no funding for the DriftNetwork in 1995, so Sue has coordinated efforts on a "volunteer" basis (who needs spare time?). It's a good thing she has, since despite the U.N. Moratorium, driftnets around the world are still among the largest killers of whales, dolphins, turtles, seabirds, seals, and countless other marine species.

Earthtrust has worked with the Coast Guard and the US Navy to help train crews in recognizing DN boats, and our videos are part of their training. The U.S. passed the "Driftnet Moratorium Enforcement Act" at the end of '92... but getting the US to actually enforce it can be a problem... which leads us to Earthtrust's latest "Pirate Driftnet" story, adapted from Susie White's report. It'll give you a good feel for the kind of folks doing driftnetting today:

In early July of 1995, a driftnet boat was spotted by a US albacore boat. The boat was sighted by a Coast Guard overflight on July I I and videotaped with seventeen miles of net in the water. As soon as it was spotted, it pulled in its nets and headed west. The vessel name was clearly the "Luyan Bu 6006" and it was flying a PRC flag. However, the PRC reported that the "Luyan Bu 6006" was sitting in harbor in China. This boat was an impostor.

Pirate Driftnetters are still hard at work..
and may be the biggest threat to many
kinds of animals, including whales,
dolphins, seabirds, and turtles. Our
victory won't be complete as long as
they're operating.

A Coast Guard cutter was dispatched and overflights kept track of the vessel which tried to outrun its pursuers. When it could not see a plane it stopped dead in the water.

The boat was stopped by the Coast Guard on July 20th. By this time the boat's name had been painted out and it was not flying a flag. Thus, under international convention, it was a "stateless" vessel and subject to the laws of the nation apprehending it. The captain tried to block the Coast Guard from boarding but they were successful and escorted the boat to Guam. Earthtrust sent them a list of items to check that had helped us in prior investigations.

However, the US State Department decided it did not want the Captain charged for violating the Driftnet ban! (Similar to the position it has taken on the ETP dolphin-kill deal; our tax dollars at work?)

The US State Department notified the District Attorney's office in Guam that the US did not want the captain charged for violating the driftnetting ban. This was very disconcerting to the agencies which had gone to great effort and expense ($1.6 million) to apprehend him. It is also bad news since the fishing community in Taiwan and the rest of Asia is watching this incident very closely. Here is a boat CAUGHT with nets in the water - clearly in violation. If the captain is not charged - what message does that send? ("Get those driftnet boats out of mothballs - we are back in business!")

The PRC crewmembers were sent back to China with a stopover in Japan. However, when they got to Japan, China refused them for lack of proper passports, so they were flown back to Guam again on the U.S. taxpayers' nickel. We had hoped to send Suzie Highley to help them and find more information but did not have the funds.

Suzie Highley, longtime Earthtrust driftnet investigator who is fluent in Chinese, talked to one of the Chinese via telephone while he was still detained on the boat. He wasn't able to say much, though: the crews are treated badly, as virtual slaves, and never know where they are at any given time.

The Indonesians were the most helpful of the crew members and the bulk of the details came from them. They spent time in Taiwan. Three of them also spoke very good English and were forthcoming with details to both Suzie and the investigators.

They claim they were never told that pelagic driftnetting was illegal. They also noted that at the Taiwan shipyard, they saw 10-20 boats that they describe as 150 foot (or longer) pelagic driftnet boats, some obviously still active.

In April of 1995, their boat had left for Mainland China where it took on 12 crew members. Before arriving in China it changed its name to the "Luyan Bu 6006" and painted "Yantai" on its prow. (Yantai is the home port of the real "Luyan Bu 6006").

According to PRC crew, net was transshipped at sea. They are not sure where, but they believe it was off of China. They also said that net was already loaded on in Kaoshiung (Taiwan) in packages.

According to the Indonesians, they first realized it was a "black ship" when the captain changed its name. The captain at first was very friendly but became progressively threatening and terroristic. The crew was not fed well. One of the crew took a bread bun. At that point the captain brandished a gun and warned them about this. When one of the crew was interviewed on CNN he claimed the captain forced the crew to eat seal at gunpoint. Apparently the Indonesians were vegetarian Muslims. The Taiwanese first mate was a very large man who acted as the enforcer.

ET's Susie White worked closely with the prosecuting attorney's office in Guam and coordinated communications. This was logistically hairy since she was in California tying up details surrounding the death of her mother and had to do all work via powerbook and phone. Suzie Highley was on holiday in Los Angeles. Many time zones were involved. The phone calls led to Shurshur City in Taiwan, to many conference calls, and went late into many nights.

ET's position is that the captain
must be charged under the Driftnet act.

This boat was caught dead to rights--nets in the water--by the Coast Guard. Officers have Taiwanese and PRC passports but the call home to the captain's wife was to Kaoshiung in Taiwan. The Coast Guard even has the address of the company that manages the boat in Kaoshiung.

What more does the US State Dept. needed to invoke the "Driftnet Moratorium Enforcement Act?" If the captain had not resisted would he have been charged at all?

Clearly, "pirate driftnetting" is occurring as a well-organized activity and may be on the increase. It certainly will be, if the US doesn't enforce its laws. As a single Driftnet vessel can kill 50 whales and countless dolphins, seals, turtles, and other animals in a single season, each vessel is a marine disaster. Until the laws are enforced our battle against driftnets will not have been won.

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