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NGO accuses Korean vessel of ‘pirate’ fishing in West Africa

An international environmental group accused a Korean trawler of illegal fishing in waters off West Africa.

The Environmental Justice Foundation, a London-headquartered nongovernmental organization, told The Korea Herald that the Kum Woong 101 ship has sent to Busan its catch from illegal, unreported and unregulated operations within Sierra Leone’s Inshore Exclusion Zone on Sept. 18-19.

It cited satellite images and its positioning system.

Busan-based Kum Woong Fisheries Co., the owner of the ship denied the claim. It said the 85 tons of fish were caught and handed over in waters off Guinea Bissau with a legitimate license.

But as its captain and chief engineer became ill, Kum Woong 101 had to enter the Freetown port in Sierra Leone where better medical services were available.

The EJF said the 470-ton trawler sailed on Sept. 20 to Guinea’s Exclusive Economic Zone and passed its shipment onto a Dutch cargo boat named Holland Klipper in breach of the African country’s regulations.

The ship’s captain has confirmed to the U.K.-headquartered organization by satellite phone that 4,385 cartons had been transshipped from the Korean ship, which is forecast to arrive at Busan in about three weeks.

“The catch was the product of our work over the past six months in Guinea Bissau ― not Sierra Leone ― we usually get 3-4 tons a day at best,” managing director Chun Hyo-yul said.

“But we’ve paid a fine of $70,000 for violating local fisheries law such as arbitrarily entering the port and operating in Sierra Leone’s IEZ. The boat is currently operating in Sierra Leone since we’ve acquired a license there in the meantime.”

After local authorities and the EJF’s complaints, the firm is to submit explanatory materials to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries as early as Friday.

The ministry said it has also requested related information from the governments of Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Netherlands through diplomatic channels.

“We’re looking into the case and plan to take appropriate measures depending on the results,” a ministry official said.

The West African coast has seen massive foreign trawlers sweep up hundreds of tons of fish a day and export their illicit catch to Europe and Asia at the expense of local fishermen with much smaller boats.

Even with a license, the trawlers are supposed to stay outside a 12-mile limit but come closer at night, taking advantage of the poor countries’ lack of resources to monitor or police their waters.

A series of Korean vessels have been identified fishing illegally in West African waters in recent years, prompting international criticism and government action.

In its 2013 report to Congress, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce designated Korea as one of 10 countries engaged in IUU fishing activities along with Colombia, Ghana, Tanzania and Venezuela.

The African Development Bank said last year that the continent lost 1 million tons of fish every year due to overfishing and bad governance in the fisheries sector, which accounts for 10 percent of global losses. If properly managed, fisheries can provide more jobs and more income, and feed up to 20 million malnourished people in the developing world, it said.

“IUU fishing vessels undermine marine ecosystems, fish stocks and are responsible for high mortality of species including turtles and sharks,” the EJF said in a statement.

“This is a key time because Korea has recently been under pressure as a result of the illegal activities of its fleet and there are suggestions that Korea could face trade sanctions from the European Union for its role in illegal fishing in West Africa and beyond, if improvements aren’t made.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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