24 June 2016

Joint media release from The Hon Peter Dutton Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator The Hon Marise Payne for Defence and Senator the Hon Anne Ruston Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

Two foreign fishing vessels have been towed into Cairns by HMAS Wollongong after being apprehended in the Coral Sea off Far North Queensland.

The boats were intercepted on Tuesday evening near Dianne Bank, around 18 kilometres inside Australian territorial waters within the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

Twenty six crew members were aboard the vessels who are believed to be Vietnamese.

Maritime Border Command (MBC) within the Australian Border Force (ABF) made the apprehensions in a coordinated effort with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said the interception of the two vessels was an example of how the various agencies of government were working in lockstep to secure Australia’s borders from all types of threats.

“Preventing illegal fishers from plundering Australia’s well managed fisheries is every bit as important as stopping the people smugglers and illegal arrivals,” Mr Dutton said.

“We have the resources, technology and the capability to find illegal fishers and stop them,” he said.

The Minister for Defence Marise Payne said that during the escort to Cairns one of the illegal fishing vessels caught fire and the crew had to be transferred to the escorting patrol boat.

“The professionalism of the Defence and Border Force personnel ensured this dangerous situation was managed without incident or injuries,” Senator Payne said.

Inspections of the two vessels at sea revealed diving gear to support multiple teams of divers, almost nine tonnes of bêche-de-mer, a quantity of turtle meat and coral and reef fish suspected to have been caught illegally.

The Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Senator Anne Ruston said increasing international demand for fish species such as Trepang was making Australian waters more enticing for illegal foreign fishers.

“Illegal fishing undermines both the economic and environmental sustainability of our marine resources,” Senator Ruston said.

AFMA will lead further investigations into the activities of the vessels and their crew who will be held in Immigration Detention in Darwin.

Tuesday’s apprehensions follow the interception of two Vietnamese vessels and detention of thirty crew at the beginning of the month for suspected illegal fishing on Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea.

In May four Indonesian fishers were convicted for illegally fishing for shark fin in Australia’s northern waters.