Fines and prosecution costs totalling over £ 300,000 were imposed Tuesday to a long-liner caught poaching in South Georgia by the Falkland Islands court. South Georgia is rich in the valuable Patagonian toothfish.
Senior Magistrate Claude Faulds sentenced that the owners of long-liner "Elqui" Geneagles Corporation be fined £ 125,000 for fishing without a licence in South Georgia waters.
Owners will have to pay another £ 62,500 for failing to notify the Grytviken Marine Officer prior to entry to South Georgia waters and a similar amount for permitting the "Elqui" to carry an un-stowed fishing line and gear aboard without a licence.
"Elqui" was first spotted in late February, early March by the crew of two cruise vessels, "Explorer II" and "Grigoriy Mikheev". In the latter travelled the Commissioner of South Georgia and Falkland Islands governor Mr. Howard Pearce on one of his regular trips to Grytviken.
In early March the poacher was finally escorted into Stanley harbour by Falkland Islands Fisheries patrol vessels "Sigma" and "Dorada" following a boarding in South Georgia waters.
The company who were unrepresented in the second day in court after solicitor Richard Marlor withdrew from the case, were disqualified from fishing for three years and the catch which has an estimated value of more than £ 70,000 was forfeited.
Besides "Elqui" must remain detained in Stanley until the full payment of the fine. Christian Henriquez Vargas master of the vessel was given a fine totalling £ 2,000 for the three charges which he is to pay within two years. Geneagles Corporation has been ordered to pay £ 60,000 towards prosecution costs and Mr. Henriquez Vargas £ 500.
During the court hearing Mr. Henriquez Vargas alleged that nothing had been found connecting the vessel with illegal fishing activities and that the bait on the hooks were in preparation for operating outside South Georgia's EEZ, arguing it takes several days to completely defrost the bait.
However Senior Magistrate Claire Faulds said she didn't find any plausible explanation surrounding the baited hooks when the long-liner was in a prohibited zone and concluded that the vessel had recently been fishing.
Under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, South Georgia this year was awarded a Total Allowable Catch of 3.050 tons of toothfish with the season officially beginning next May 1.
COLTO (Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators) web site has the "Elqui" in its list of alleged "poachers". The latest entry in its record shows the then Uruguayan flagged "Elqui" calling in Cape Town in April 2004. Two months earlier she had been confirmed by Uruguayan authorities as holding a "D" high seas fishing licence. But when she was arrested and taken to Stanley, life preserver rings bore the word "Conakry", capital of West African Guinea.
Last February Uruguayan authorities were contacted by the Conakry government regarding a long-liner which allegedly had fake West Guinea papers and was sailing towards the South Atlantic possibly calling in Montevideo. However Conakry officials did not follow up or press charges. (FIBS/MP)