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Drama at sea as illegal fishing vessel arrested

News24 - South Africa

28th June 2004

A secret French-South African anti-poaching operation in the southern ocean has led to the arrest of an illegal fishing vessel, but only after shots were fired at the suspected poacher when it refused to obey repeated instructions to stop.

Details of the arrest - first released by South Africa's department of environmental affairs on Monday - are sketchy, but it was carried out three days ago by a French navy patrol boat, the Albatross, which had earlier picked up two South African fisheries inspectors.

According to the department, the arrested vessel is the "Apache". No details of its crew, owners, or where it is registered, are available at this time.

The Apache is understood to have been fishing illegally for Patagonian toothfish.

The arrest took place about 5 000km south-east of Cape Town, within the economic exclusion zone (EEZ) around the French Antarctic island of Kerguelen.

In a statement, environmental affairs said South African fisheries officials had "assisted the French sea patrol unit to arrest an illegal fishing vessel in French fishing waters in the southern ocean".

Officials were taken onboard

"Three weeks ago, a French sea patrol unit moved through South African fishing waters near Marion Island. South African fishery compliance officials were taken onboard once it was suspected that vessels were fishing illegally in our exclusive economic zone.

"After they patrolled the South African waters, which were clear, they continued into the French fishing waters, where they spotted an illegal vessel on the border of the French and Australian economic fishing zone.

"The vessel, Apache, which did not have any permits to fish in that area, refused to stop after repeated instructions, and only complied after shots were fired.

"The vessel is currently on tow to Reunion, a French island, where the case will be investigated."

The department said the arrest "formed part of a classified joint operation between South Africa and France".