Maputo — A ship that was seized for fishing illegally in Mozambican waters has been turned into a monitoring and inspection vessel, and has joined the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The ship is the "Antillas Reefer", which was flying the Namibian flag (but with a largely Spanish crew) when it was caught illegally fishing for sharks in Mozambican waters in July 2008. The Namibian authorities later stripped the ship of its licence.
When the vessel was inspected in Maputo port, 43 tonnes of shark meat, four tonnes of shark fin, 1.8 tonnes of shark tail, 11.3 tonnes of shark liver, and 20 tonnes of shark oil were found on board.
Shark fins are eaten as an expensive delicacy in Asia, while shark liver and oil are used for medicinal purposes. The total value of this catch was put at around five million US dollars.
Illegal equipment was also found. The vessel was using long lines, with anchors and weights that could keep the lines at depths of up to two kilometres, allowing the vessel to catch deep-sea sharks.
The ship was unlicensed, it was taking species that may not be fished in Mozambican waters, and it was using banned gear.
The Fisheries Ministry imposed a fine of 4.5 million dollars on the ship's owners, the Walvis Bay registered company, Ompala Fishing Pty Ltd. In addition it confiscated the ship and everything on board.
The owners appealed, but lost the case, and Mozambique's Administrative Tribunal confirmed that the vessel was forfeit to the Mozambican state.
The "Antillas Reefer" has now been refitted with the latest inspection technology, and instead of stealing Mozambique's fish, it will track down other vessels involved in dilapidating the country's marine resources.
On Friday, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza formally inaugurated the "Antillas Reefer" in its reincarnation as an inspection vessel, as well as a new Fishing Monitoring and Surveillance Centre, endowed with state-of-the-art equipment.
Transforming the "Antillas Reefer" cost about 1.6 million US dollars, according to data from the National Directorate of Fisheries Inspection.
Guebuza declared that, through this investment, "it has been possible to provide our country with the latest technology allowing the automatic and permanent control of the position of boats, where they are heading, and their speed".
He said that Mozambique is now better able to prevent and discourage illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
"These two inaugurations", he added, "announce that the conditions now established will help us adopt more efficient measures in managing the fishery resources in the waters under Mozambican jurisdiction".
Guebuza called for an increase in obligatory inspections in port, to detect and penalize any vessels that are trying to hide or under-report what they have caught in Mozambican waters. "Offenders should serve as an example for those who are still preparing these actions against our economy, our environment and our maritime security".
With the "Antillas Reefer" and the Monitoring Centre, the President said, the authorities hope to ensure "more sustainable and protected exploration of our marine resources to the benefit of the country, and to allow economic operators to undertake their activities in an environment of security and fair competition".
Immediately after the ceremony, the "Antillas Reefer" took to the sea to inspect the vessels currently fishing for tuna in the Mozambique Channel.