Australia sentences 15 Vietnamese sea cucumber poachers

By VnExpress   March 2, 2017 | 12:39 am PT
Australia sentences 15 Vietnamese sea cucumber poachers
Australia authorities apprehend a Vietnamese fishing vessel for illegal fishing off the coast of Cairns. Photo by Australia's Border Protection and Immigration Department.
The men were caught, earlier this month, with 2.5 tons of the prized creatures.

The Darwin Magistrates Court handed sentences to 15 Vietnamese fishermen on Tuesday for illegally fishing in Australian waters, Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement.

After confiscating and destroying their vessel, seven of the men received an additional two months in prison as repeat offenders; the rest received suspended sentences. The captain of the vessel also received a suspended six month sentence.

On February 6, Australia's Border Protection Authority interdicted their vessel near Lihou Teef, in the Australia's Coral Sea Marine Reserve.

The vessel was carrying nearly 2.5 tons of sea cucumbers, a clear violation of Australia's environmental and fisheries laws. Once dried, the creatures can fetch up to $230 per kilogram in devleoped Asian markets.

Last week, Asia Nikkei Review carried a long feature about Australia's response to Vietnamese sea cucumber poachers that noted the island nation had deployed aircraft and drones to monitor their northern fisheries. The story cited a northern parliamentarian as saying he believed a "mother ship" sat outside their boundaries providing fuel and support to up to 40 small wooden poaching vessels at a given time.

Australian seizures of foreign fishing vessels quadrupled from 2014 to 2016, the paper noted.

Peter Venslovas, Australia's general manager fisheries operations, said the most recent sentence demonstrated Australia’s strong commitment to deter and prevent illegal fishing.

“As demonstrated by this court case, those seeking to take advantage of Australia’s well-managed fisheries will face the harsh consequences, including of jail time," Venslovas said in the statement.

Figures from Australian fisheries authorities reveal that 161 Vietnamese illegal fishers have been apprehended in northeastern Australia ­waters since March 1, 2016. Of these, nine were repeat offenders.

Last year, Australian authorities seized 10 fishing vessels and 121 Vietnamese fishermen, and confiscated over 32,000 tons of sea cucumbers.

Sea cucumbers can be found on the ocean floor and are used in a variety of cuisines and as traditional medicine.

Foreign maritime police have seized hudreds of Vietnamese fishermen in Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and Filipino waters.

An official from Vietnam's Coast Guard said that many Vietnamese fishermen are unaware of international maritime laws or the boundaries and unwittingly stray into foreign fishing zones. 

Others, he acknowledged, are aware of their actions.

To prevent illegal fishing, the country’s Fisheries Resources Surveillance Department is trying to raise awareness about maritime boundaries and international maritime laws, and conducts frequent patrols to prevent potential violations.

Related news:

> Vietnam opposes Chinese fishing ban in troubled waters

> Dozens of Vietnamese fishermen arrested in Australian waters

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