On 21 March, following intelligence that a refrigerated cargo vessel was believed to be transmitting a fraudulent identity outside the Port of Monrovia, the Liberian Coast Guard was assisted by Sea Shepherd crew, Israeli maritime advisors and marine conservationists in boarding the 93m Sierra Leone flagged motor vessel M/V Lian Run.
The AIS navigational aid was transmitting an IMO number that did not exist in any records. IMO numbers are unique identifiers linked to a vessel throughout its lifetime to improve the safety of life at sea and to assist in reducing maritime fraud.
The M/V Lian Run has a history of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity has already been detained five times in the past five years. During this inspection, the vessel was found to be carrying 460 tons of fish cargo on board, intended for offload in the Port of Monrovia.
Liberian Coast Guard approaching the Reefer M/V Lian Run
The captain of the M/V Lian Run was unable to provide a cargo manifest for the fish, a document required by law to determine its origin.
The captain subsequently claimed the fish had been transshipped from four vessels belonging to the 'Lian Run' fleet, but no documentation or fishing licenses could be presented to back this up.
“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.
Sea Shepherd and Liberian Coast Guard boarding the M/V Lian Run
The Liberian Coast Guard ordered the vessel to be arrested on suspicion of identity fraud and IUU fishing while the origin of the fish 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 make fishery crime possible,” said the Minister of National Defense, Brownie Samukai.
Since February this year, under the name 'Operation Sola Stella', Sea Shepherd been assisting the Liberian Government to tackle IUU fishing by providing the use of one of its vessels, the M/Y Bob Barker, to act as a civilian offshore patrol vessel in Liberian waters, directed by the Liberian Ministry of National Defense. So far patrols have resulted in the arrest of four IUU fishing vessels.
Sea Shepherd's IUU Task Force team and Liberian Coast Guard question the reefer crew
Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing, which accounts for as much as 40% of the fish caught in West African waters.
Last year Sea Shepherd also partnered with the Government of Gabon for 'Operation Albacore', which resulted in the inspection of over 40 fishing vessels at sea, and the 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 actively support national governments and their Law Enforcement Agencies in the fight against IUU fishing.
More on Operation Sola Stella.
Sea Shepherd Global is an international non-profit marine conservation movement dedicated to defending, conserving and protecting the worlds oceans and marine wildlife. Founded by Captain Paul Watson in 1977, Sea Shepherd has become a worldwide movement with independent national and regional entities in over 20 countries. With the exception of US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), they are united in a common mission coordinated by Sea Shepherd Global in Amsterdam.