Operation Driftnet Primary Goal Achieved
Friday, 08 Apr, 2016
Commentary by Operation Driftnet Campaign Leader and captain of the Steve Irwin, Siddharth Chakravarty.
In early January 2016, while the STEVE IRWIN was still berthed in Western Australia, a blog entry from Sky Truth, a group that tracks fishing activity using satellite AIS data, titled "Unusual Vessel Behaviour in MH370 Search Area" caught my attention. At that point in time, the STEVE IRWIN was getting ready to leave for the Southern Ocean to tackle the last of the Bandit 6 Tooth fish poaching vessels, the VIKING. The Malaysian Airlines crash site has an interesting connection to the tooth fish poachers because in 2014, the day the plane was reported missing, a distress messages was received from a sinking vessel in Antarctica. We now know that the sinking vessel turned was the refrigerated cargo ship supporting 3 of the Bandit 6 vessels run by the Spanish Crime Syndicate, the Vidal family. Much like the plane, the mystery behind the sinking and the actual whereabouts of the vessel remains unknown.
This Sky Truth blog entry has three very interesting aspects to it:
1. Unknown vessels
2. Unusual activity on the oceans
3. A connection to Operation Icefish
And these three aspects intrigued me enough to make the decision to check these vessels out. On the 25th of January 2016, the STEVE IRWIN had reached the location and was soon able to uncover that the vessels were fishing vessels and the unusual activity was the vessels fishing illegally using driftnets. We had just found one of the biggest cases of blatant illegality on the world's oceans- a fleet of 6 vessels laying hundreds of kilometres of driftnets in a part of the ocean where no enforcement exists.
Driftnets were banned in 1992 by a United Nations Moratorium, solely because of the destruction they wreak upon the oceans. The crew of the STEVE IRWIN got a glimpse into the scale of this destruction when we confiscated 4 kilometres of the net and recovered the bodies of 321 animals across 12 different species. The mountain of dead bodies piled on the decks of the STEVE IRWIN represented the scale of the illegality. And in the absence of any enforcement, we knew that we had the responsibility and the ability to end this destruction.
Today, everyone on board the STEVE IRWIN is at peace and has smiles on their faces. The FU YUAN YU fleet has been disbanded and no driftnets remain deployed in the oceans by this fleet.
In doing so, we have saved the lives of an estimated 100,000 sharks and an equal number of animals from other species. The primary aim of Operation Driftnet has been met- illegality on the oceans has been confronted and a "Rogue 6" have been shut down. The oceans, today, have 6 less vessels plundering them.
Currently, the STEVE IRWIN is en route to Australia having covered over 20,000 kilometres since that day in January when we spotted the FU YUAN YU fleet of vessels. As a group of 30 people, committed to ending illegality on our oceans, our job is done. And to the people from across the world, committed to supporting the actions of Sea Shepherd, we thank you. The last 16 months of your support have shut down the Bandit 6 fleet of tooth fish poachers and Rogue 6 fleet of drift-netters.