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In 2007, most illegal toothfish vessels expanded their use of gillnet fishing methods, which are outlawed under CCAMLR regulations. Gillnets pose many threats. They are more effective than longlines, the level of incidental bycatch from gillnets is greater and lost or abandoned gillnets have the potential to continue to incur marine life mortality through ‘ghost fishing’.

As well as expanding their fishing methods, poachers shifted from traditional fishing areas to high seas areas, where there was less chance of detection by legitimate toothfish operators and law enforcement agencies. France, for example, has reported that in conjunction with a decrease of suspicious vessel activity in France’s economic exclusion zone (EEZ) around Isle Crozet, there has been an increase in vessel activity observed on the outer edges of the EEZ.

Sea Shepherd crew document Toothfish operators during Operation MigalooIllegal toothfish vessels are owned by shell companies and operate through a number of subsidiaries. Controlling interests are linked to a handful of Spanish-based fishing outfits, the most notorious of which is Vidal Armadores. The company is suspected in more than 40 cases of illegal fishing activity globally, from using banned fishing gearto targeting protected species of shark. However, Vidal Armadores’ notoriety has developed primarily due to its involvement in the illegal trade in toothfish.

In 2002, Vidal Armadores made international headlines when Australian authorities famously pursued the Viarsa 1 off of Subantarctic Heard Island. For 21 days, the Australia Customs vessel Southern Supporter chased the Viarsa 1 until it was finally brought back to Australia for trial. The Viarsa 1 was ultimately acquitted on lack of evidence because, although it was discovered in Australian waters, it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the fish was caught in Australian waters.

That same year U.S. officials seized an illegal shipment of Vidal Armadores toothfish. Manyof the company’s ships have ended up on international ‘blacklists’ and in 2006 Vidal Pego, one of the co-owners, was convicted of obstruction of justice in a United States federal court for unlawfully importing illegally caught toothfish into the United States.

The Chengdu, Nihewan and Chang Bai have all been sighted in recent years; all three vessels use prohibited gillnets and all are linked to Vidal Armadores. They were most recently flagged under Tanzania, but have a history of changing names and registries from Mongolia to Namibia to Sierra Leone. When vessels are flagged to countries that are not party to the CAMLR Convention, such as Tanzania, diplomatic efforts are insufficient in bringing the operators to justice.

The Thunder and Snake on the other hand, not linked to Vidal Armadores, were suspected of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean and subsequently became the subject of International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) Purple Notices in 2013. (A Purple Notice is an international alert sent to all national law enforcement agencies to provide INTERPOL with information on modus operandi, procedures, objects, devices or hiding places used by criminals.)

Illegal toothfish operators often use vessels ill suited for Antarctic sea conditions to conduct their criminal operations. The result is the loss of not just the lives of fish, but of human life as well. After Sea Shepherd’s return from the 2013/14 Antarctic Whale Defence Campaign, Operation Relentless, while Australian authorities were busy scouring the South Indian Ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) responded to an unrelated distress signal. Upon approaching the location of the emergency beacon, debris was visible, but there was no sign of either life rafts or crew in the water. The search was called off due to the low chances of survival in the Antarctic conditions and the Orion search and rescue plane was diverted back to looking for the missing aircraft.

dead Toothfish on fishing vesselThe emergency beacon was later linked to the Tanzanian-flagged Tiantai refrigeration ship, but AMSA has still been unable to establish the owner of the vessel. The Tiantai was assumed to have been assisting illegal toothfish operators that would have used the vessel to offload their illicit catch. Due to the impossibility of establishing ownership, it is likely that the families of the vessel’s crew are still uncertain of the fate of the seafarers who died.

The Vidal Armadores linked vessel Nihewan, formerly named the Paloma V, is no stranger to Sea Shepherd. On Sea Shepherd’s 2009/10 Antarctic Whale Defence Campaign, Sea Shepherd confiscated an illegal gillnet set by the Paloma V.

When the Palmoa V later docked in Auckland, New Zealand, fisheries investigators found damning evidence that indicated the vessel was involved in a criminal network that enabled the transhipment of supplies between legal and illegal toothfish operators. This included proof that supplies were given from the Paloma V to the Chilbo San 33, a formerly North Korean-flagged blacklisted fishing vessel. Although the Paloma V was eventually released from custody because of concerns that a trial would be lengthy and costly, it has been spotted under other names and flags in the Antarctic since then, including Mongolian, Belizean and Cambodian flags of convenience.

Dramatic Drone Footage of the Sinking of the Viking
Sea Shepherd has released dramatic footage, including drone footage, of the sinking of the last of the “Bandit 6” toothfish poaching vessels, the Viking, in Pangandaran, West Java. Director of Sea Shepherd Asia, Gary Stokes, was at the sinking. “Another of the Bandit 6 po...
The Arrest of the Viking
The hunt for the last of six known toothfish poaching vessels has ended with the arrest of the Nigerian-flagged Viking in Indonesia. The announcement of the vessel’s arrest was made at a press conference in Jakarta today, held by Indonesian Fisheries Minister, Susi Pudjiastut...
The Arrest of the Viking
The hunt for the last of six known toothfish poaching vessels has ended with the arrest of the Nigerian-flagged Viking in Indonesia. The announcement of the vessel’s arrest was made at a press conference in Jakarta today, held by Indonesian Fisheries Minister, Susi Pudjiastut...
The Arrest Of The Kunlun
On February 2 2015, while at the helm of the Sea Shepherd ship The MV Sam Simon​ on Operation Icefish 1, Capt. Sid Chakravarty and his crew intercepted the internationally wanted toothfish-poaching vessel, Kunlun, in Australian waters in the Southern Ocean. Capt. Chakravarty th...
The Search Begins
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Blue Whales Greet Steve Irwin
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Steve Irwin Departs Fremantle Today on Operation Icefish 2015-16
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Operation Icefish 2015-16: Southern Ocean Defense Campaign
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Steve Irwin Dry Dock 2015, Fremantle, Australia
Sea Shepherd's Flagship, the Steve Irwin, arrived in Perth Western Australia last week and has been undergoing final preparations in a secure dry dock facility, prior to its departure for Sea Shepherd's upcoming Southern Ocean Defense Campaign, Operation Icefish 2015-16. The ca...
Poaching Vessel, Thunder, Sinks in Suspicious Circumstances
On April 6, the notorious poaching vessel, Thunder, sank inside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Sao Tome. “Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done - doors and hatches w...
Sea Shepherd Assaulted While Attempting to Communicate with The Thunder
“Human trafficking and modern day slavery is rife in the high seas fishing industry ... Given this, we decided to try to communicate with the crew, to assess their situation.” - Capt. Sid Chakravarty. The Sea Shepherd small boat crew successfully threw messages in plastic co...
Dramatic Footage of Near Collision In High Seas Battle With Notorious Poaching Vessel
The Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, narrowly avoided a collision with the Interpol-listed, Thunder, as the poaching vessel made multiple attempts to retrieve its illegal fishing gear from waters in the southwest of the Indian Ocean.
The Sam Simon Intercepts Two Poaching Vessels That Evaded New Zealand Navy
February 2, 2015 - The Sam Simon intercepts two poaching vessels that evaded the New Zealand Navy, in Australian waters. The Yongding and the Kunlun, two of three poaching vessels that fled from the New Zealand Navy in January 2015, display aggressive action as they are interce...
EXCLUSIVE: Crew of the Sam Simon Retrieve 3rd Illegal Gillnet
Through day and night, wind, rain and snow, the dedicated crew of the Sam Simon have battled to rid the Southern Ocean of the devastation of thousands of metres of illegal gillnets, abandoned by the poaching vessel Thunder. Watch the crew in action during their operations to retr...
To The Veronicas, love from Sea Shepherd
Australian band, The Veronicas, are dedicated supporters of Sea Shepherd. Their video 'If You Love Someone' features images of Sea Shepherd's frontline defence of the whales of Antarctic. This video is a thank you to the band from the crew of Operation Icefish, who are currently...
Sea Shepherd Breaks Record For World's Longest Sea Chase of a Poaching Vessel
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Crew of the Bob Barker encounter rare "Ecotype D" Orcas
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The Sam Simon Retrieves Illegal Gill Net Abandoned by Poachers
Watch exclusive video of the dedicated crew of the Sam Simon in action, hauling thousands of metres of illegal gillnet from the frigid waters of Antarctica. Without their direct intervention, countless numbers of Antarctica's rare marine creatures would have needlessly perished, ...
Bob Barker Intercepts the Thunder in the Southern Ocean
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Patagonia toothfish killing vessel during Operation Migaloo 2008
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