The Ministry of Marine Resources has started an investigation into an incident involving a Cook Islands-flagged bunker vessel that provided assistance to a fish factory vessel on a list of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels.
Director of Offshore Fisheries Tim Costelloe says the ministry was notified in December by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) that the bunker vessel had breached regulations.
He says the Cook Islands has been working closely with the organisation to resolve the issue, as one of its 15 member countries.
The bunker vessel, Hai Soon 26 – an oil tanker that refuels other vessels at sea - is one of only six of the Singaporean Hai Soon company’s large fleet registered to the Cook Islands.
“We were advised of the breach of SPRFMO regulations resulting from the transfer of fuel to the fishing vessel. As a result, the ministry undertook an investigation into the matter, and must now provide a compliance plan to SPRFMO outlining how it will ensure this breach does not occur again.”
The ministry has advised the Hai Soon company of updated requirements to ensure incidents of this type do not re-occur.
“Hai Soon followed procedure in providing prior notification to MMR of the fuel transfer which took place just outside Peru’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in July last year.
“It appears the Hai Soon company may have been unaware of the fishing vessel’s IUU listing at the time the fuel order was made. A vessel name change also appears to have added to the operator’s confusion.
“As far as the ministry is aware, the vessel is operating under a new name and new ownership and had applied to be removed from the IUU list.”
The refuelling event took place during a trip where the fishing vessel was not conducting any fishing activities, but navigating with a skeleton crew from Peru to China, after being cleared by the USA, Belize and Peruvian authorities through due legal process.
MMR Secretary, Pamela Maru, welcomes the requirement to submit a plan to SPRFMO using it as “an opportunity to review management measures we have in place, and to identify how we can further strengthen these.
“The Cook Islands has a robust regulatory framework for managing offshore fishery resources, including a highly skilled and dedicated fisheries monitoring, surveillance and enforcement team to track and control fishing vessel activities and ensure compliance.”
The ministry uses a suite of tools and technology such as the satellite-based vessel monitoring system, electronic reporting of catch, fisheries observers, boarding and inspections as well as a network of compliance officers around the region that aid in the management of fishing vessels. - MMR