On March 21st, after receiving intelligence that a refrigerated cargo vessel was suspected of transmitting a fraudulent identity outside the Port of Monrovia, the Liberian Coast Guard assisted by Sea Shepherd crew and Israeli maritime advisors and conservationists boarded the 93-meter Sierra Leone-flagged motor vessel (M/V) Lian Run.
The Automatic Identification System (AIS), a navigational aid which a vessel uses to transmit its identifying information, such as name and radio call sign, was transmitting an IMO number that did not exist in any record. IMO numbers are unique identifiers that remain linked to a vessel throughout its lifetime to improve the safety of life at sea and reduce maritime fraud.
The M/V Lian Run has been detained five time previously over the past five years, and has a history of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity. During the inspection, it was determined the vessel was carrying 460 tons of fish cargo on board, and intended for offload in the Port of Monrovia.
The captain of the M/V Lian Run was unable to present a cargo manifest for the fish on board, a legally-required document, without which it’s impossible to determine the origin of the fish.
The captain later claimed the fish had been transshipped from four fishing vessels belonging to the “Lian Run” fleet. However, no documentation, including copies of the fishing licenses of the catch vessels, could be presented to corroborate that statement.
“Refrigerated cargo vessels are a major contributor to IUU fishing as they are used to launder the catch of IUU fishing vessels. On these so-called reefers, legal catch can be mixed with illegal catch, and catch origin can be impossible to deduce. Laundering fish is easier than laundering money. Thus, vessels transshipping fish at sea must be able to prove the origin of the fish by carrying on board copies of the fishing licenses of catch vessels,”, said campaign leader Captain Peter Hammarstedt.
The Liberian Coast Guard ordered the vessel arrested on suspicion of identity fraud and IUU fishing while the origin of the fish cargo is investigated.
“To address IUU fishing, we must go after the vessels actively engaged in the illegal fishing activity, as well as the vessels that support that criminal activity. In Liberia, I have instructed the Coast Guard to target every link in the criminal chain, including these mother ships, that makes fishery crime possible,” said Hon Minister Brownie Samukai, Minister of National Defense.
Since February 2017, under the name Operation Sola Stella, Sea Shepherd been assisting the Government of Liberia to tackle IUU fishing by providing the use of the M/Y Bob Barker as a civilian offshore patrol vessel operating in Liberian waters, under the direction of the Liberian Ministry of National Defense. The patrols have thus far resulted in the arrest of four IUU fishing vessels. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing, which accounts for up to 40% of the fish caught in West African waters.
In 2016 Sea Shepherd partnered with the government of Gabon for Operation Albacore, resulting in over 40 fishing vessel inspections at sea and the subsequent arrest of three IUU Congolese fishing trawlers and one Spanish long-liner. Operation Sola Stella is a continuation of Sea Shepherd Global’s commitment to work actively with national governments and their Law Enforcement Agencies in the fight against IUU fishing.