Illegal foreign fishing vessels apprehended in the Coral Sea

Joint media release: Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Australian Border Force and Parks Australia

Two foreign fishing vessels believed to be Vietnamese were apprehended on Thursday in waters off north Queensland for suspected illegal fishing in Australian waters.

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

The vessels were first spotted by an ABF surveillance aircraft in the vicinity of Lihou Reef which is located in the Coral Sea more than 600 kilometres to the northeast of Cairns, Queensland.

HMAS Wollongong with the Australian Defence Force (ADF), ABF and AFMA officers embarked, responded and inspected the vessels.  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 been detained and the vessels and crew are being escorted to Cairns where further investigations will be undertaken by AFMA.

AFMA General Manager Fisheries Operations, Peter Venslovas, said this recent attempt to steal from Australian waters showed 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 MBC, Commodore (CDRE) Brenton Smyth, commended the joint efforts of MBC, and other Commonwealth partners in protecting 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,” CDRE Smyth said.

“MBC 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.”

This week’s 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 at an AFMA destruction facility.

More information on how Australia is working to combat illegal fishing can be found at afma.gov.au

ENDS

Media contacts:

AFMA: 0437 869 860
Immigration and Border Protection: 02 6264 2244
Parks Australia: 0416 911 968