Armed Sierra Leone Navy sailors stationed on board the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker carried out a series of covert at-sea raids on fishing vessels in the waters of the West African country of Sierra Leone, arresting five trawlers for illegal fishing.
In the early morning hours of the 14th of March, two trawlers that had spent the night anchored outside of an inshore exclusion zone (IEZ) reserved for artisanal fishermen were detected by radar making way into the protected area with their nets in the water. Two rigid hull inflatable boats from Bob Barker transported a law enforcement detachment of Sierra Leone Navy sailors who surprised, boarded and arrested the fishing vessels Friendship 806 and Friendship 888 in waters saturated with small-scale fishing pirogues, approximately one nautical mile inside the IEZ. Both trawlers were fishing without a license and were transmitting false electronic identifying information, one of them was appropriating the identity of another vessel fishing over 7,000 nautical miles away in the Pacific Ocean.
On the morning of the 15th of March, Jianmei 3 was arrested at anchor off the port of Kent on the Freetown Penninsula. Nights previously, the trawler had been documented fishing about six nautical miles inside the IEZ, just outside a marine protected area designated to conserve spawning fish. When boarded the crew were busy dismantling fishing gear, taking apart winches and trawling equipment to give inspectors the impression that the vessel had not been fishing for some time. A fishing logbook confiscated by the Sierra Leone Navy boarding team showed Jianmei 3 systematically fishing inside the IEZ on forty-four documented occasions. Jianmei 3 was arrested, placed under armed guard and brought back to Freetown. Last year, its two sister ships—Jianmei 1 and Jianmei 4—were arrested for illegal fishing and absconded from detention. Both vessels are still wanted by authorities in Sierra Leone. Hours after the apprehension of Jianmei 3, two Chinese-flagged trawlers—Liao Dan Yu 6616 and Liao Dan Yu 6618—were arrested for fishing without a license. Liao Dan Yu 6618 was carrying two separate sets of registration documents and the captain was attempting to destroy evidence when the Sierra Leone Navy breached the wheelhouse. The captain was trying to shred proof that his fishing license had been expired for one month.
Sea Shepherd Campaign Director Captain Peter Hammarstedt said after the arrest of the two Chinese-flagged vessels, “the remaining 11 vessels belonging to the same fleet all set course for Freetown to avoid inspections.”
“Vessels from other fleets also retreated to safe harbor when they received news that a patrol was underway and it is the belief of Sea Shepherd and the Sierra Leone Navy that none of them had valid fishing licenses,” he said.
“The arrest of five trawlers in the waters of Sierra Leone marks the start of Operation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense, Sea Shepherd’s eighth government partnership on the continent of Africa,” Sea Shepherd said. The organization has boosted the at-sea patrols by the Sierra Leone Navy in the war against IUU by providing both crew and the organization’s vessel Bob Barker. “These five arrests send the strong message that if you are caught fishing without a license, then you will be arrested by the Sierra Leone Navy and you will be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law,” Sierra Leone Defense and National Security Minister Kellie Coneth said.