Uruguayan Fisheries Director Captain Yamandu Flangini questioned the Australian claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone in the remote islands of Heard and McDonald and revealed that currently there are only four Uruguayan flagged vessels licenced to operate in international waters.
"Article 121 (*) of the 1982 United Nations Sea Convention stipulates that small remote islands which cannot sustain human habitation have no EEZ. I'm not questioning Australian jurisdiction, what is debateable is the right to an EEZ. One of these remote islands (4,000 kilometres southwest of Perth) is less than a square kilometer and they belong to an underwater mountain chain susceptible to geological changes. However, I admit this is not for the Fisheries Department to discuss but our Foreign Affairs ministry", said Captain Flangini in an interview published in the Sunday edition of El Pais, Montevideo's main newspaper.
The interview coincided with the arrival to Fremantle, under escort, of the Uruguayan flagged longliner "Maya V" apprehended a week ago by the Australian Navy for allegedly illegal fishing in Australian waters close to the Heard-MacDonald islands.
According to the Australian Navy the "Maya V" has on board 150 tons of the very valuable Patagonian toothfish with a market value of 1,5 million US dollars.
The "Maya V" incident follows a similar action four months ago with another Uruguayan flagged longliner "Viarsa 1", finally apprehended after a 21 days hot pursuit by an Australian fisheries patrol with help from South Africa and Falklands vessels. However Captain Flangini was quick in pointing out that even when the alleged cause involving both long-liners could be the same, fishing in Australian jurisdictional waters, the two cases are different.
While the "Viarsa 1" has been suspended from the Uruguayan registrar for manipulating its navigational position and breaching other contractual conditions of its "D" licence plus deliberately trying to avoid high seas inspection, the "Maya V" on been sighted by the Australian Navy insistently requested to be inspected so complying with international law and avoiding any suspicion.
Further on Captain Flangini said that Uruguay strictly complies with international agreements on responsible fishing such as those in the framework of FAO, the Committee on Fishing and the IUU, Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported fishing plus being member of other more specific organizations such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, ICCAT, and the Committee for the Conservation of Marine Living Antarctic Resources, CCMLAR.
"This international standing together with our policy to attract foreign investment gives Uruguay an enviable condition and attracts many overseas companies, creating jobs and much economic activity. Uruguay's annual fisheries exports average 120 million US dollars and an estimated 37,000 people are involved in the industry".
Captain Flangini indicated that Uruguayan flagged vessels authorized to catch in international waters, (with the controversial "D" licence), must have a Fisheries Department observer on board plus two Fisheries Department inspectors must be present when and wherever the catch is unloaded.
"And we've asked several vessels to leave and others have been banned from the Registry, and now we only have four left belonging to four different companies", revealed the Director of Uruguayan Fisheries.
Besides "Viarsa 1" which is an anagram for Vidal Armadores S.A. the Spanish company from Galicia owner of the longliner, two other vessels from the same company, "Dorita" and "Larvasa", another anagram, were invited to leave Uruguay and one of them changed flag.
Similarly the "Sherpa 1" and "Lugalpesca" have been suspended for not having reported to Montevideo after been sighted or exposed by international organizations. Three others for having refused to take onboard a Fisheries observer and the VMS were left out of the Registry: "Mar de Escocia", "Eclipse 11" and "Antártico 52"
However Captain Flangini also underlined that in the IUU category worldwide figure 3,200 vessels, most from developing countries with the exception of China and Russia. Why? "Because the others confront the problem with other weapons. They operate under convenience flags or simply those who should keep track of them don't realize what the others are doing illegally".
Finally Captain Flangini revealed that the "Viarsa 1", --currently arrested in Australia with its captain and several Spanish crewmembers waiting to face trial--, is also facing a similar situation in Uruguay for having deliberately manipulated navigational positions and for having impeded the Uruguayan Fisheries Department observer to monitor and check them accordingly.
(*) PART VIII REGIME OF ISLANDS Article121 Regime of islands
1. An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.
2. Except as provided for in paragraph 3, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory.
3. Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.