The crew of the Uruguayan flagged longliner Viarsa 1, currently retained in Fremantle will be informed next February 5 of the date of their trial for allegedly illegally fishing in Australian waters.
A judge from the city of Perth extended this Friday an order banning the captain of the "Viarsa 1" and four other crewmembers from leaving Australia, according to local press reports.
The defendants are Captain Ricardo Mario Ribot Cabrera, Uruguayan, 58; crew members, Roberto Enrique Reyes Guerrero, Chilean, 34 and Jose Gonzalez Perez, 38, Antonio Garcia Perez, 40, and Francisco Fernandez Olivera, 40, all Spaniards.
The captain and crewmembers are currently free on bail after having paid 13,000 US dollars, and could face incarceration and heavy fines ranging 370,000 US dollars if found guilty.
The honorary Spanish Consul in Perth Angel Quintela said that the trial will probably begin in June, "but anyhow it's going to be a long slow process".
The captain and crew of the "Viarsa 1" are accused of having caught Patagonian toothfish in Australia's Economic Exclusive Zone, EEZ, next to the tiny islands of Heard and McDonald in Antarctic waters and claimed by Australia.
"Viarsa 1" was arrested last August 27, 2,700 kilometres to the south of Cape Town after a 21 days hot pursuit by fisheries patrol vessels from Australia, South Africa and the Falklands. She was finally escorted into Australia, October 3.
The Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish are considered a delicatessen and very much in demand with prices ranging between 8 to 10,000 US dollars the ton making it a targeted prize for illegal fishing. Australia estimates poachers, (illegal, unreported and unregulated) annually catch 1,500 tons of toothfish in Australia and New Zealand EEZ.
Spaniards and Chileans are renowned for being the best in locating and catching toothfish.
For Chilean born Reyes this is the second time he is caught illegally fishing by Australian authorities. Last time was in 2001 with the vessel "South Tomi".
Australia and New Zealand announced this week that beginning next year an armed fisheries patrol vessel and aircrafts will be at the lookout for illegal fishing in their waters.