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A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

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How Sea Shepherd Tracked Down One of Interpol's 5 Most Wanted Ships

The final part of the Ocean Outlaw series (by Ian Urbina of The New York Times), highlights the role of organisations such as Sea Shepherd, to hunt down one of Interpol's 5 most wanted ships at sea.

Watch the videos along with reading the article, to get a full understanding of the dangers the crews face, to prevent illegal fishing.

Solarglide have kindly been given permission to publish excerpts from all 4 articles of the Ocean Outlaw series, with links to the full articles and Solarglide highly recommend everone to read them. The series has been given high praise by The New York Times and the maritime community and Solarglide recommned everyone should read the articles.

Michael Neuman from Sydney, Australia says "Brilliant reporting and research, perfect videos". Michael Kennedy from Portland, Oregon says "This is one of the most amazing stories printed by The New York Times that I have ever read." Please follow the links below to read part four of the Ocean Outlaw series in its entirety.

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"ABOARD THE BOB BARKER, in the South Atlantic — As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes. In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish.

The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below. It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase.

For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines.

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In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history.

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished.

Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities. “The poachers thrive by staying in the shadows,” Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Barker, said while trying to level his ship through battering waves. “Our plan was to put a spotlight on them that they couldn’t escape.”

The pursuit of the Thunder until its sinking in April, pieced together from radio transmissions, interviews, ship records and reporting on board the Bob Barker and its fellow ship, the Sam Simon, demonstrates the anything-goes nature of the high seas, where weak laws and a lack of policing allow both for persistent criminality and, at times, bold vigilantism.

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Illegal fishing is a global business estimated at $10 billion in annual sales, and one that is thriving as improved technology has enabled fishing vessels to plunder the oceans with greater efficiency. While countries, with varying degrees of diligence, typically patrol their own coastlines, few ever do so in international waters, even though United Nations maritime regulations require them to hold vessels flying their flags accountable for illicit fishing.

That leaves room for organizations like Sea Shepherd, which describes itself as an eco-vigilante group, flies a variation of the Jolly Roger on its ships and often cites the motto, “It takes a pirate to catch a pirate.” In chasing the Thunder, Sea Shepherd’s goal was not just to protect a rapidly disappearing species of fish, its leaders said, but to show that flagrant violators of the law could be brought to justice. Maritime lawyers question whether the group has legal authority for its actions — ranging from cutting nets and blocking fishermen to ramming whaling vessels — but Sea Shepherd claims its tactics are necessary. So do some Interpol officials.

“They’re maritime skip tracers,” one Interpol official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to reporters. “And they’re getting results.” " Please follow the link below to read part four of the Ocean Outlaw series in its entirety. Our thanks to Ian Urbina and the team at The New York Times, for sharing Ocean Outlaw with Solarglide.

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