Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean the fishing vessel Thunder is hauling thousands of pounds of toothfish out of the water, which will be later sold to nearby Asian markets. However, this Spanish ship is no commercial vessel. Known also as the Wuhan, the Thunder is an illegal fishing operation run by pirates that answer to no laws on the open ocean.
Due to the efforts of the Australian federal government and 10 other nations in a Regional Plan of Action, these pirates are running out of room to maneuver. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, officials are cutting the poachers off from their markets and source of income, driving sea-bound criminals into a much smaller operations range. If left unchecked, millions of dollars of illegally caught fish are sold every year, which damages both law-abiding fishermen’s livelihood and fish populations. High-value species such as tuna and Patagonian toothfish are especially at risk due to high demand.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warns that illegal fishing pirates can be dangerous, potentially armed, and can run down smaller fishing vessels at nighttime when they most frequently operate. Many of these vessels are straightforward poachers fishing in waters with very little surveillance. Now however, officials are beginning to force the pirates into moving closer and closer into high Antarctic waters. Recently Australian authorities conducted a series of pursuits that ended in the capture of several poaching vessels, including one 2,500-ton Iranian ship near the Antarctic coast.
The Australian Navy previously detected the Thunder in the Indian ocean, where a number of military ships drove it from port. Experts say the net is tightening and it will only be a matter of time before the Thunder runs aground. The ship is owned by a Spanish holdings company, which also owned the infamous pirate vessel Viarsa 1. The Vairsa 1 made headlines after being pursued by several ships for 3,900 nautical miles in 2003. Eventually the Viarsa 1 was overtaken and transported to Australia, where the ship was scrapped. The crew was later acquitted even though 97 tons of toothfish were found aboard the vessel.
Image courtesy United States Navy