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February 4, 2008

A Pirate Ship No More

Here’s one for the dustbin of history: This week, Australian authorities confirmed that one of the world’s most infamous pirate fishing vessels was scrapped in a shipyard in India in December.

The Viarsa 1 was first spied illegally catching Patagonian toothfish (better known in restaurants as Chilean sea bass) in Australian waters in 2003. The resulting pursuit (scroll down for daily updates) by patrol vessels lasted 21 days and crossed 3900 nautical miles, inspiring Wall Street Journal reporter G. Bruce Knecht’s acclaimed book, “Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish.”

Many ships that participate in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Southern Ocean are owned by Spanish companies, including Viarsa 1, and fly under flags of convenience. The owner of Viarsa 1, Vidal Armadores S.A., still owns several pirate ships. Just last summer, the company’s ship Magnus was apprehended while using illegal fishing gear in South Africa. The ship was sailing under the name Ina Maka with a North Korean flag.

It may go without saying that Vidal Armadores S.A. has received support in the form of subsidies from the Spanish government.

There is a way to clamp down on IUU fishing: stop allowing ships to fly flags of convenience. In addition, ships that have been caught pirating should not be allowed to obtain special fishing permits. Currently, the European Union is considering such a measure.