A major crackdown by Spanish authorities of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean, helped by the dogged pursuit by Sea Shepherd of the most notorious poaching vessel in the world, ended on Wednesday with the illegal operator fined millions of euros.
The owner of the Interpol-wanted F/V Thunder, which was deliberately sunk by its captain in the Gulf of Guinea after a record 110-day pursuit by Sea Shepherd two years ago, and other Galician Mafia ‘kingpins’, appeared in Spanish courts this week .
It followed a major crackdown by Spanish authorities of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean in which six Spanish nationals and six Spanish companies involved were fined a combined total of more than €5.2 million euros.
The F/V Thunder was deliberately sunk by its captain after the Sea Shepherd chase. He and two of his crew, after being rescued by Sea Shepherd, were sentenced to three years in prison, and fined €15 million euros, by a court in the island state of Sao Tome and Principe in 2015.
The latest fines are the result of Operation Sparrow II, a continuation of Operation Sparrow, a Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment (MAPAMA) policing operation targeting Spanish IUU operators, which saw the infamous Vidal Armadores crime syndicate fined more than €17.8 million euros.
In addition to the fines handed down in Spain, the six individuals and six companies are sanctioned from partaking in any fishing activity for the next 5-14 years.
An additional €60,000 euro fine was given to an individual who obstructed law enforcement officers during the MAPAMA investigation.
Operation Sparrow II has enabled Spanish authorities to collect incriminating evidence on the main IUU players in Spain, which can now be used by other jurisdictions internationally; a move welcomed by campaigners as fisheries crime is often transnational in nature.
Captain Peter Hammarstedt, who heads Sea Shepherd’s campaigns against IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing in Africa, said Spain ‘now has the opportunity to show continued leadership by sharing that evidence with other state actors, either bilaterally or through Interpol’s Project Scale, which has shown great efficiency and success in combatting IUU fishing’.
‘Sea Shepherd applauds the continued commitment of Spanish authorities to crack down on IUU fishing by investigating Spanish individuals and companies associated with fisheries crime,’ Captain Peter Hammarstedt said.
‘More than two years after my crew and I dogged the F/V Thunder for 110 days, chasing it across 10,000 nautical miles, covering three oceans, before finally ending its career, Spanish authorities have continued to chase those who profited most from its ten-year crime spree.
‘We commend the leadership that Spain is showing in the fight to stop IUU fishing and are proud of our own efforts: both in putting a spotlight on IUU fishing and by securing critical evidence against the F/V Thunder.’
The Sea Shepherd campaigns draw huge support and volunteers from Byron shire, where regular fundraising events raise thousands of dollars for their fight against illegal fishing and whaling in the Southern Ocean.