Protecting our oceans: Nabbing drift net violators

CGC Munro interdicts a suspect illegal drift net vessel

The crew of the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro monitors the Bangun Pekasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing Sept. 9, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Renegade large-scale high-seas drift net fishing indiscriminately kills massive amounts of fish and other marine life such as whales and turtles. The practice of using enormous nets suspended for miles in open water is a significant threat to ocean ecosystems and to the food and economic security of nations relying on fishery resources.

With miles of netting deep under the water’s surface, drift net fishing is difficult for law enforcement authorities to spot. But earlier this month, the Coast Guard – in cooperation with federal and international partners – seized a fishing vessel and crew suspected of large-scale illegal high-seas drift net fishing in the North Pacific Ocean.

High Seas Drift Net Vessel

The crew of the Bangun Pekasa tend to fishing nets prior to a Coast Guard Cutter Munro law enforcement boarding. The Coast Guard actively participates in the international cooperative efforts against large-scale high-seas drift net fishing as encouraged by the United Nations moratorium. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Acting on vessel sighting information from a Fisheries Agency of Japan airplane, Coast Guard Cutter Munro launched its helicopter and crew who located the fishing vessel Bangun Perkasa with 22 fishermen aboard approximately 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska.

Bangun Perkasa’s crew reportedly abandoned their fishing nets and attempted to leave the area once they spotted the helicopter flying above them. The vessel was found to be operating without valid flag state registration and seized as a stateless vessel for violations of U.S. law.

Upon boarding the vessel, a Munro team found more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses aboard. They retrieved the abandoned net and began the lengthy escort toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

“The seizure of the Bangun Perkasa highlights how international cooperation along with U.S. Coast Guard high endurance cutters can detect, monitor, and interdict high-seas drift net fishing vessels,” said Capt. Gregory Sanial, 17th Coast Guard District chief of enforcement. “This method of fishing is illegal, despicable and shows complete disregard for the world’s ecosystem, and the joint effort of the many Pacific nations shows our dedication to ending this barbaric practice, enforcing maritime law and being good stewards of the environment.”

Munro handed the vessel’s escort back to port off to Coast Guard Cutter Midgett, which is bringing the Bangun Perkasa to Dutch Harbor where the case will be turned over to the Alaska Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement for the investigation.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation of this case and continue our work to prevent high-seas drift net fishing, which is globally recognized as an indiscriminate fishing practice that kills marine mammals, sea birds, sharks and fish,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in Alaska continues to combat this illegal fishing with the help of Canada, Russia, Japan, China and Korea, our international partners in the North Pacific.”

“This case demonstrates how our cutters and crews allow the United States to maintain constant vigil far from the U.S. mainland,” said Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, the Coast Guard director of response policy. “Our high endurance cutters routinely operate from South America to the Bering Sea. The Munro, and cutters like it, are more than 40 years old and slated for replacement. National Security Cutters that are faster, better equipped, more durable, safer and more efficient than their predecessor, will continue to ensure U.S. interests are protected today and for decades to come.”

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  • Roger & Jerry Clenney

    We are very proud of our USCG keeping an eye on such illegal and
    such wasteful destruction of our marine resources. Thanks for your service.

  • Julianne Cox

    Thank you coast guard! My husband is on the MUNRO. So proud of all their hard work!

  • Robert Czwecki

    Why is the United States holding stateless vessels to U.S. Law? This is a clear violation of international treaty which states that stateless vessels can be taken over by governments on the high seas due to piracy or mutiny. This also means drug interdiction activity on the high seas violates international law. Quit spending our money in the middle of nowhere, and provide more vessels within our EEZ where we have the legal right to enforce our laws. The CG is in the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of World Security.

  • Larry Kramer

    In fact international law states that a stateless vessel or a vessel assimilated to being stateless is not afforded protection of any nation and is subject to laws of any nation. Well done to the officers and crew of CGC Munro.

  • LT Bradley Soule

    Mr. Czwecki,

    Thank you for the question and comment. Here are a few pieces of information you may find useful:

    In accordance with the 1958 Convention on the High Seas, U.S. law allows for vessels to be assimilated to “without nationality” status and become subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The U.S. Coast Guard takes its responsibilities under U.S. law and international agreements very seriously; in this case, and almost all others involving assimilation to “without nationality” status, the Coast Guard sought concurrence from its federal partners prior to taking law enforcement action. Interagency concurrence included the Department of Homeland Security (including ICE and CBP), the Department of Commerce (including NOAA General Counsel and NOAA Fisheries), the Department of Justice, as well as a variety of offices in the Department of State. The initial boarding was conducted under the authority of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international body to which the U.S. is a party that authorizes member nations to conduct High Seas Boarding and Inspections to ensure compliance with the agreement.

    Regarding the dedication of resources to enforcement in this remote corner of the North Pacific, there is a direct relation to U.S. interests. High Seas Drift Nets (HSDN) have traditionally been used to target several species that are highly migratory or anadromous (return to the same rivers there were spawned). Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nations have a responsibility to work together to ensure the sustainability of highly migratory and anadromous species. For over 20 years, the United States has partnered with several nations that also seek to ensure the sustainability of their fishery resources in the North Pacific through a variety of international organizations. Ensuring compliance on the high seas protects U.S. interests by protecting stocks that support the U.S. fishing industry on the high seas and within our own EEZ.

    Thank you again for taking the time to comment.

    Sincerely,
    LT Bradley Soule
    Living Marine Resources Enforcement Division
    Office of Law Enforcement
    Coast Guard Headquarters