The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a U.S based environmental group, has sent its flagship, the Steve Irwin, to Libyan waters after French vessels were spotted heading towards that area.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) confirmed reports that the French vessel Sainte Sophie Francois 2 is on its way to Libyan waters. The Sainte Sophie Francois 2 has not been permitted to fish for bluefin tuna in the year 2011.
According to Sea Shepherd, about an hour after the Sainte Sophie Francois 2 set sail, four other French vessels equipped with purse seiners, a type of net effective for catching tuna, disabled their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). Disabling AIS is prohibited because it allows a vessel to become undetected by radar and conceal their location. These four ships all have fishing quotas and are allowed to catch bluefin tuna this year. However, Sea Shepherd is suspicious to why the vessels wanted to disappear off the radar.
Additionally, the Steve Irwin sent a helicopter to look for the Sainte Sophie Francois 2 and after the vessel was spotted, it also turned off its AIS and started sailing toward Tunisian waters.
Amidst the current political unrest in Libya, Sea Shepherd believes they can still fight to preserve environmental laws. At the present, there are less Libyan planes or naval vessels for Sea Shepherd to worry about, compared with during previous campaigns. Also, NATO and European Union officials are completely informed of Sea Shepherd’s operations. Says Captain Paul Watson, “Our mission is simple. Any tuna fishing vessel we find off the Libyan coast will be operating illegally. We will cut their nets, free the fish, and document and report their operations to ICCAT and the European Union.”
However, the current crew of the Steve Irwin still faces dangers when confronting poachers. Made up of 46 volunteers (18 women and 28 men), the crew has acknowledged the risks and are ready to act upon any illegal poaching. “I am constantly asked if this is a dangerous operation. Of course it’s a dangerous mission, that’s why were the only group going into this war zone. We go where no one else dares to go and we do what no one else has the guts to do – uphold international conservation law.” said Captain Watson.
Sea Shepherd and the crew aboard the Steve Irwin have been on similarly potentially dangerous campaigns in the past. Dubbed “Operation Blue Rage”, on June 17, 2010, the Steve Irwin sailed to Libyan waters to confront a number of vessels fishing in the area. Sea Shepherd suspected the vessels were there illegally because June 14th was designated the last day of the fishing season, any fishing for bluefin tuna after June 14th is illegal.
Sea Shepherd requested to examine the tuna caught by the Cesare Rustico, an Italian vessel, for any juvenile tuna. After the captain of the Italian vessel refused, Sea Shepherd sent the Steve Irwin closer to the cages so the crew could examine the tuna themselves. Shortly after, the Maltese vessel Rosaria Tuna, smashed into the Steve Irwin. Additionally, a fisherman on the Maltese vessel attempted to attack the crew of the Steve Irwin, using a long, sharp hooked pole.
The crew of the Steve Irwin then threw 8 liters of rotten butter at the Maltese vessel which caused the ship to back off and retreat.
Consequently, the crew of the Steve Irwin then decided to cut the nets and free the tuna. As suspected, among the 800 bluefin tuna freed, a large number of them were, in fact, juveniles.
Sea Shepherd requested assistance from a Greenpeace vessel in freeing the tuna. However, Greenpeace refused because “under no circumstances” would they enter Libyan waters.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/malfet/3355352001/