Kiribati fines ship $1 million USD following Operation Kurukuru

BETIO, KIRIBATI, 23 SEPTEMBER 2009: The High Court of Kiribati today fined the owner and master of a foreign fishing vessel a total of USD $1 million  for fishing in Kiribati waters without a licence.

The fine came as the High Court handed down its judgment on the prosecution by Kiribati Attorney General of Chung Ching Fu and Sung Hui Ocean Company Ltd, master and owner respectively, of the Vanuatu flagged, longline fishing vessel Sung Hui.

On 24 August 2009, the Sung Hui was intercepted and boarded by police officers from the Kiribati Pacific Patrol Boat RKS TEANOAI inside the Kiribati Economic Exclusion Zone.  RKS TEANOAI was just one of a number of patrol boats participating in Operation KuruKuru 2009 and had been alerted to the presence of the Sung Hui through the combined regional surveillance effort of the FFA member countries, the United States and France.  A preliminary investigation showed that the vessel had been engaged in illegal fishing activity and was apprehended and taken back to port where it was placed under arrest.

In court, the master and owners of the Sung Hui pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful entry, two counts of unlawful fishing within the Kiribati fishery limits and one count of failing to have the vessel’s fishing gear stowed.  Fines of A$1,140,000 (USD $993,083 ) were imposed and the company was also charged for the costs involved in the apprehension of the vessel, paying a further A$33,742 (USD $29,392) .  The forfeiture of the fishing vessel was also an option considered by the court but it was decided on this occasion to allow the vessel to proceed. 

This apprehension and the penalties imposed show the financial benefits of pursuing the masters and owners of vessels which continue to flout international and national fisheries laws.  It also demonstrates that the newly formed Regional Fisheries Surveillance centre at the FFA in Honiara is successfully supporting and complementing the regional monitoring, control and surveillance effort of the member countries and other surveillance providers. 

The decision comes as a warning that any foreign fishing vessel considering fishing illegally inside Pacific Island Economic Exclusion Zones in the future should be aware that their chances of being caught and prosecuted are high