Wollongong intercepts illegal fishermen

Published on Department of Defence Media Release (author), Unknown (photographer)

HMAS Wollongong off Lihou reef in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve (photo: Unknown)
HMAS Wollongong off Lihou reef in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve

HMAS Wollongong has combined with Maritime Border Command personnel and surveillance aircraft to intercept two foreign fishing vessels recently.
Two foreign fishing vessels believed to be of Vietnamese origin were apprehended on 2 June, in waters off north Queensland for suspected illegal fishing in Australian waters.

Maritime Border Command within the Australian Border Force, made the apprehensions off Lihou reef in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve, in cooperation with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Parks Australia.

The vessels were first spotted by a surveillance aircraft near the reef which is located in the Coral Sea more than 600km to the northeast of Cairns.

Wollongong with Border Force and Fisheries officers embarked, responded and inspected the vessels and during the inspection officers found diving gear to support more than 10 divers in the water at once and approximately six tonnes of bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) suspected to have been caught illegally.

Thirty crew members believed to be Vietnamese nationals have now been detained and the vessels and crew were escorted to Cairns where further investigations will be undertaken by the Fisheries Management Authority.
General Manager Fisheries Operations, Peter Venslovas, said this attempt to steal from Australian waters demonstrates that the risk of illegal foreign fishing remains.
“Australia’s fisheries are some of the best managed in the world and as such they are the target of illegal fishers,” Mr Venslovas said.
“However, through regular surveillance, monitoring and patrols, those seeking to do the wrong thing will be caught.”
Acting Commander Maritime Border Command, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Brenton Smyth, commended the joint efforts to protect Australia’s waters from illegal activity.
“These apprehensions are a fine example of the collaborative efforts of Australian government agencies working together to detect and apprehend vessels illegally fishing in Australian waters,” Commodore Smyth said.
“Maritime Border Command maintains surveillance and response capabilities throughout the Australian Fishing Zone to ensure natural resources and our unique biodiversity are protected for future generations.”
Parks Australia Head of Marine Protected Areas Jason Mundy said Lihou Reef had been a sanctuary since 1982.

“It is a pristine reef ecosystem of national significance. Ensuring illegal activities including foreign fishing are prevented is essential for conservation and protection of this unique and special place,” Mr Mundy said.

“Parks Australia welcomes the fast, coordinated and effective response by Australian government agencies to this incursion.”

The apprehensions follow the convictions in May of four Indonesian fishers for illegally fishing for shark fin in Australia’s northern waters. They were fined a total of $19,200 and their fishing boat was confiscated and destroyed.