Chinese fishing fleet ships shut down location systems to enter exclusive economic zones

This Chinese fishing boat, whose name is Hong Pu 16, was detained on May 4 by the Argentine Naval Prefecture. The vessel carried out illegal fishing operations. Photo: taken from portal

Jonathan Palma
July 31, 2020 – 10:33 am

On July 16, the National Navy alerted about the presence of some 260 Chinese ships in the vicinity of the Galapagos Exclusive Economic Zone.
This fleet travels through international waters, but also seeks a way to enter protected areas, says Milko Schvartzman, a marine conservation specialist who has been tracking this floating city for more than a decade. He worked for 18 years in the Greenpeace organization as International Coordinator of Oceans and now he works for another environmental organization in his country, Argentina.

The expert explains that this fleet operates in waters close to the territorial seas of several South American countries and that it constantly seeks entry to exclusive economic zones.

“What this fleet does is go in the season of greatest growth of the giant squid, which is the most caught squid on the planet, especially by these types of fleets, stealth fleets, because they do not respect controls. Their strategy is to start fish between May and November, which is the peak season for this species, “says Shvartzman. This fleet also catches fish. However, their fishing gear also catches other types of species.

He adds that between November and December that fleet migrates south, passes through the Strait of Magellan, between Chile and Argentina, the Strait of Drake, and crosses to the South Atlantic.”And from December to April or May, the fleet operates in front of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Argentina. They are the same vessels. I have them tracked. That is the strategy: In half a year they operate in the Pacific and the other half in the Atlantic,” he details.

On July 23, Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín said at a press conference that the Ecuadorian Navy cannot act while the fleet does not violate the EEZ or enters the Galapagos Marine Reserve (RMG).

“A month ago we detected that these ships come from Peru and are moving north. We have informed the corresponding national and international authorities. When it approaches these days it is in front of the EEZ,” said the Secretary of State.

How they circumvent controls

On May 4, the Argentine Naval Prefecture arrested the Chinese fishing boat Hong Pu 16 for illegal fishing within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the South American country. This type of apprehension has been recurrent, although there are also Chinese ships that have escaped to international sea.

Shvartzman explains that vessels of a certain size, such as fishing boats, are required to use a system called the Automatic Identification System, established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to avoid collisions on the high seas. This system, which emits a radio signal, transmits the name, location, speed and other details of the boat.

“The Chinese fleet is the fleet that most disables automatic identification systems. If I am not where the boat is, it is impossible to discover that boat. The Chinese fleet does it permanently and they usually do it to illegally enter the exclusive areas of our countries “, alerts the specialist.

Twin boats

To refine that strategy, stealth fleets also circumvent controls with name and license plate cloning.

“Because one of the two deactivates the satellite system, so it seems that a single boat is fishing, but there are two. There are twin or twin boats as we call them,” says Shvartzman.

The most recent case was identified in May when a Chinese vessel fled the Argentine Naval Prefecture. Researchers from Global Fishing Watch, a digital vessel tracking platform, detected that this vessel has the same identification number as another Chinese fishing vessel, reports the Mongabay Latam outlet.

Days ago, conservationist Milko Shvartzman conducted an exercise with the help of the Marine Traffic platform to monitor Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Galapagos.

“I took an image a couple of days ago and I counted 120 Chinese vessels, when it is said that there are 260, that is, that half of the fleet had the satellite detection system,” says the specialist.

The fishing gear used by these vessels is aggressive, experts say, because they capture the target species and others that are in the slaughter area.

“The fleets are placed in transit areas for marine life. This puts our rays, turtles, wolves, among others, at risk,” says biologist Sofía Green Iturralde, consulted by the AINE news agency.

Nicolás Vera, from the Frente Insular collective, describes the magnitude of the traps used in this fleet.”There are basically 280 boats. A longliner bank, with that length (length), is carrying 100 thousand hooks, 100 thousand hooks for 280 boats, we are talking about 28 million hooks,” he says.

A captain of an Ecuadorian tuna boat tells this newspaper that on July 6 he encountered the Chinese fleet near the Exclusive Economic Zone of Peru. He was stunned, he says, by the large number of boats.

“It was a huge amount. I passed close to one, for me it was a mother ship. They came from the border about 200 miles from Peru. The problem is that those boats fish whatever they come across. Who controls them? We load biologists onto the ship. The sharks and turtles that we catch (incidentally) are treated as one’s child. This is what they force us to do, and that is how it must be so that resources are maintained, “says the captain.

In August 2017, Ecuador captured a Chinese reefer vessel that entered the waters of the sensitive Galapagos reserve. Inside, the authorities found some 300 tons of fish, which included sharks of protected species. The crew was jailed and the ship now belongs to the state.

Citizen oversight

There are various easy-to-use vessel monitoring services on the internet, such as Marine Traffic or Global Fishing Watch. In this last service, it is not necessary for the user to register, and filters can be applied to improve the search, for example if you want to identify vessels of a certain flag.

Read the entire article from El Universo at

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
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