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Crew of the Sam Simon are now into the 48th-hour of the gillnet retrieval operation. Photo: Jeff WirthCrew of the Sam Simon are now into the 48th-hour of the gillnet retrieval operation. Photo: Jeff WirthIn a move that Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, has describe as “deliberately deceptive,” the Interpol-listed poaching vessel, Thunder, has by-passed the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of France, travelling on a course that has taken the ship directly between the French-governed Crozet Islands and Kerguelen Islands.

The incident occurred at approximately 1000 AEDT today, at 48° 52’ South, 059° 47’ East, and is the latest in a string of suspicious actions undertaken by the Thunder that indicates the outlaw vessel is intentionally evading authorities.

Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, has called on the French government to send its Navy to intervene against the Thunder. “These poachers are making a mockery of international law and of France’s support of CCAMLR regulations. Their intentional evasion of French waters confirms they have something to hide and that they are afraid of authorities. As a Member of CCAMLR, responsible for protecting the pristine Antarctic marine ecosystem, we implore the French government to send a Naval vessel to escort the Thunder back to port where the vessel can be inspected and these poachers receive their due of justice,” said Captain Hammarstedt.

Current course of the Thunder, as it intentionally avoids French EEZ’s around Crozet and Kerguelen Islands.Current course of the Thunder, as it intentionally avoids French EEZ’s around Crozet and Kerguelen Islands.

The Nigerian-flagged Thunder has been on the run since December 17, when the Bob Barker caught the toothfish poacher inside the Conservation the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) area of the Southern Ocean, without a license to fish.

Despite initially claiming its innocence, the Thunder has continued to flee from the Bob Barker, twice attempting to lose the Sea Shepherd ship by leading it into treacherous weather conditions.

Yesterday, the Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, located the illegal gillnet, abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. The crew of the Sam Simon is currently engaged in an operation to remove the illegal equipment from the Antarctic waters.

A vulnerable toothfish, deceased after being caught in the poacher’s illegal gillnet. Photo: Jeff Wirth A vulnerable toothfish, deceased after being caught in the poacher’s illegal gillnet. Photo: Jeff WirthThe retrieval operation is now running into is 48th hour, during which time over seven kilometres of net has been salvaged. The majority of Antarctic wildlife found in the nets, including targeted toothfish, other species of fish and squid, has been found dead. A small number of crabs that were caught have been successfully released, alive, back into the Southern Ocean.

Once the recovery process has been completed, Captain Chakravarty will report to Interpol, CCAMLR, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Australian Federal Police with details of Thunder’s illegal catch. Sea Shepherd hopes that the information provided to CCAMLR will help to mitigate the current deficiency in data regarding the catches of IUU vessels.

The Sam Simon will then join the Bob Barker in its pursuit of the Thunder, to ensure the poacher returns to port and its operations are thoroughly investigated.

Operation Icefish is Sea Shepherd’s 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, and the first to target IUU toothfish fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica.

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