Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd's first campaign to target Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing of toothfish in the waters of Antarctica, and the organization's longest, continuous at-sea campaign to date has concluded with unexpected success.
The campaign has drawn world-wide attention to the issue of poaching vulnerable Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish and has led the way for an unprecedented level of international cooperation in the fight against illegal fishing in the world's oceans pointed out Sea Shepherd adding that the Bandit 6, of six remaining toothfish poaching vessels suffered a formidable blow.
In early December 2014, two Sea Shepherd ships, the Bob Barker Captained by Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, and the Sam Simon, Captained by Sid Chakravarty of India, departed Australia and New Zealand respectively to patrol the Southern Ocean shadow-lands. The ships were in search of the six remaining toothfish poaching vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” - known to operate illegally in the waters of Antarctica.
On December 17 2014, the 'Bob Barker' intercepted the most notorious of the poaching vessels, the Interpol-wanted 'Thunder', on the Banzare Bank, Antarctica. In the four-and-a-half months that followed, the Sea Shepherd ship engaged in a world record-breaking pursuit of the poaching vessel, covering approximately 11,533 nautical miles, from the Southern, to the Indian and finally ending in the Atlantic Ocean.
On December 25 2014, the 'Sam Simon' commenced a four week-long operation to remove 72 kilometers of illegal fishing gear abandoned by the 'Thunder' when it first fled from the Bob Barker. The confiscated gear was later handed over to local authorities in Mauritius, initiating the first ever investigation into a fishing vessel issued with an Interpol Purple Notice.
On February 2, the 'Sam Simon' intercepted another two of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the 'Kunlun' and the 'Yongding', in Australian waters west of the Ross Sea, and subsequently pursued the 'Kunlun' out of its Southern Ocean hunting grounds.
In March, the 'Kunlun' and another of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the 'Viking', both of which have been issued with Interpol Purple Notices, were detained by authorities in South East Asia. Investigations into their crimes are currently underway.
In early April, in an unexpected turn of events, the 'Thunder' was scuttled in the waters of Sao Tome and Principe off the West African coast, following 110 days of pursuit by the 'Bob Barker'. Sea Shepherd believes that the sinking was an intentional act of sabotage by the ship's captain and officers who were attempting to hide evidence of the vessel's illegal fishing activity.
The Sea Shepherd ships were able to rescue the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who all disembarked to life rafts before the 'Thunder' sank.
The 'Thunder's' crew was received by the 'Sam Simon', who delivered the rescued men to the Sao Tome and Principe coast guard later that evening. The crew of the 'Thunder' have been detained in Sao Tome while investigation into the sinking of their vessel continues.
Captain of the 'Bob Barker', Peter Hammarstedt, said, “As always, we measure our success by the numbers of lives we save. Through Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd has not only saved the lives of countless toothfish, but we have also succeeded in protecting the many other marine creatures that would otherwise have fallen prey to the indiscriminate killing of these illegal fishers. We have cost the poachers millions of dollars in lost profits and have sent a very clear message to those that remain – poaching will not be tolerated in the waters of Antarctica.”
Captain Hammarstedt will continue to liaise with Interpol to hand over the final pieces of evidence collected from the 'Thunder'.
Captain of the 'Sam Simon', Sid Chakravarty, said “The international cooperative efforts that Operation Icefish has spawned have paved the way for a new approach to fighting international fishing crimes. Spearheaded by the efforts of Sea Shepherd, and coordinated by the specialized Environmental Crimes Unit of Interpol, the governments of the world have sprung into action. It has been a truly inspiring experience and an honor to lead our dedicated crews in this campaign.”
Captain Chakravarty will continue to liaise with authorities in Sao Tome and Principe regarding the crew of the 'Thunder'. Sea Shepherd will also be available to assist should the 'Yongding' try to make port in the coming weeks.