Maltese flag of convenience for €500 over the internet – Greenpeace


Maltese flag of convenience for €500 over the internet – Greenpeace



Posted 03 July 2011, by Staff, The Malta Independent Online (Standard Publications Limited),

The Maltese ‘flag of convenience’ can be purchased over the internet for as little as $500, Greenpeace was quoted saying this week by CNN in a report highlighting rampant unregulated and illegal fishing taking place off the African coast.

A ship is said to fly a flag of convenience if it flies a flag other than that of its country of ownership, and, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation some nations sell their flags to foreign-owned fishing vessels but lack the capacity or will to regulate and patrol their activities.

This week’s report underscored how ‘pirate’ fishermen are roaming along the West African coast and looting marine treasure from some of the world’s poorest countries.

According to the EJF, such illegal, unregulated fishermen are harvesting an estimated $1 billion worth of fish from African waters each year.

For countries along the west coast, such as Sierra Leone, still recovering from more than a decade of civil war, fishing is a vital source of employment and food. “The trawlers have taken all the fish from the sea,” local fisherman Senesie Kamara told the EJF in a recent report published by the foundation. “There are so many patrolling we cannot fish. They destroy everything. The trawlers are destroying our only means of survival. The land is no good for farming. Fishing is what we know – it is part of us.”

The EJF says the number of foreign ‘pirate’ fishing vessels has multiplied in recent years, and they are taking advantage of the Sierra Leone government’s lack of capacity to monitor and control its waters.

The pirate fishing vessels most recently documented by the EJF are operated by companies based in Las Palmas and Spain on behalf of owners based in South Korea.

Andy Hickman, Oceans Campaigner for the EJF, told CNN that the demand for seafood in the EU and Far East makes for brisk business.

“There is a very high likelihood that consumers have bought and eaten fish that has been caught illegally,” he said. “The EU Fisheries Commissioner estimated that as recently as 2009, up to 16 per cent of EU imports were coming from illegal sources.”

He points out that it is difficult for consumers to know if they are eating stolen fish because the traceability standard for seafood is often very weak.

The EJF operates a surveillance vessel that responds to callouts from local communities when pirate fishermen are sighted in their waters.

Amara Kalone, who is in charge of running the boat and acts as a crucial link to the local fishing community, gathers information and evidence of pirate activity that helps build a case against them. When possible, criminals are prosecuted under national and international law.

“The EJF is not authorised to make arrests of illegal fishing vessels,” he explained. “But by documenting and taking photographs with GPS positions we can forward it to the European Union, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the Sierra Leone Navy for action,” he says.

Local fishermen have reportedly been injured or killed trying to protect their fishing gear from industrial trawlers. The boat operators cover up their vessel’s names and markings that make them identifiable, while others fly flags of convenience.

The EJF points out that fishing vessels are able to operate thousands of miles from the authorities by rarely docking into a port. “These vessels are able to avoid coming into port by refuelling and re-supplying at sea, and by transhipping their catch to larger refrigerated cargo vessels,” said Mr Hickman.

Only fish that is deemed valuable on the international market is kept and the crew throw away the rest. In fact, the EJF says that up to 90 per cent of fish caught is simply dumped back into the sea dead.

As well as community surveillance, the EJF is also campaigning for a global record of fishing vessels. It says it would be easier to identify illegal vessels if there was information available about each country’s fleet, such as where the boats are operating and who owns them.

In 2009, the EU approved a new set of rules on fishing that made it harder for illegal catches from places like West Africa to make it onto the market, but the EJF insists that more needs to be done. “What we need are international agreements that can set clear rules such as transparency of ownership, operations and catches, full traceability of products and heavy sanctions for states not fulfilling their obligations.”


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