Uruguayan Director of Aquatic Resources, DINARA Captain Yamandú Flangini described COLTO, the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators as an organization of Commonwealth countries interested in preserving toothfish for their own fishing interests, leaving aside developing countries.
"COLTO is an association of parties interested in fishing Patagonian toothfish who pretend to preserve this resource for the Commonwealth countries, leaving aside developing countries", said Captain Flagini during a recent hearing before the Uruguayan Deputies International Affairs Committee where the Director of DINARA and his staff were invited to talk about the longliner "Viarsa 1" incident.
The Uruguayan flagged longliner "Viarsa 1" is currently being escorted to Australia where she will face trial for allegedly poaching Patagonian toothfish in Australian waters and for having disobeyed orders to be inspected in the high seas, which forced a three weeks persecution involving fisheries patrol vessels from Australia, South Africa and the Falkland Islands.
"If the Honourable Members of Congress look at the list of (Colto's) IUU (Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported) vessels you will see that the only vessels that figure are those with flags from Belize, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia, but you will find no Australians, South Africans, English or any other that belongs to the Commonwealth", insisted Captain Flangini when asked by a member of Parliament about claims of a "Viking fleet" and a "Spanish Armada fleet" with convenience flags (including Uruguay's) poaching in the Southern seas.
"Things must be taken with the relativeness that they deserve", explained Captain Flangini before the Parliamentary Committee in an apparent attempt to minimize the intense grilling.
However he made it a point to underline that DINARA awards Uruguay's fishing licences and "all these permits can be checked at DINARA; you can go and look at them as many times as you want. We strictly abide the law".
In Uruguay licences are awarded by DINARA; convenience flags are extended by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Coast Guard is responsible for the compliance of fisheries regulations and nationality of crew members while the Labour Department checks working safety and security conditions. DINARA also provides scientific observers who must deliver written reports when the vessel returns to Montevideo.
Several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee insisted in asking about the fact that Uruguayan Fisheries law demands a 50% Uruguayan crew in all Uruguayan flagged vessels and this was not the case in the "Viarsa 1" or apparently in other similar vessels.
According to Captain Flangini Uruguay has steadily increased its catch of toothfish particularly since 1998 with 1,607 tons until 2001 with 8,000 tons. However the volume dropped to 6,500 tons in 2002, equivalent to 23 million US dollars in exports.
When asked by a member of the Committee about the financial and political consequences of the "Viarsa 1" incident, Captain Flangini said that Uruguay is in no way committed to the costs of the three weeks high seas persecution.
However regarding other consequences involving international organizations, Captain Flangini said "it's probable that Uruguay will have to confront consequences even when Uruguay complied with all international rules since the vessel had the BMS system and an observer. The fact that you are sufficiently misfortunate as to have a bad relative living in the house does not mean you must blame the whole family. Here we must have a strong position to safeguard our interests since we complied with everything that is required (by law)".
Next week Uruguayan ministers of Defence (Coast Guard), Labour, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture and Fisheries have been convened to the House of Representatives to continue discussing the "Viarsa 1" incident and the country's overall fisheries policy.