Tuesday, 4 July 2017
JD Kotze and Mike Markovina are featured characters in the Ocean Warriors series now showing on Animal Planet. The series features their work with the Multi Agency Task Team in Tanzania over a number of episodes, focusing on the work they are doing to investigate and apprehend those involved with blast fishing on the Tanzanian coast.
Blast fishing has totally devastating effects. It kills coral reefs, destroys the vitality of the reef ecosystem including many species of fish and undermines the ability of already vulnerable and poor people to make a living from the ocean. JD Kotze commented, “blast fishing is one of the most senseless and destructive fishing practices and is causing major damage to the Tanzanian coastal areas. The easy availability of dynamite has to be stopped and the criminal networks who are profiting from this destruction must be bought to account.”
The episodes in this series show a number of arrests and substantive insight into the individuals and syndicates involved in these crimes. Building on these investigations JD and Mike are now putting together a follow up operation through Stop Illegal Fishing, which aims to target all the major blast fishing hot spots in Tanzania and the kingpins behind these crimes. An operation that, combined with a widespread awareness campaign, aims to eliminate blast fishing from Tanzania for good.
Stavros Mandalios, a Greek national and owner of the trawlers GREKO 1 and 2 received 1.359 million euros from the EU as compensation for scrapping both vessels which was recorded as having taken place at a breaking yard in Perama, Greece.
Originally built in India and named DEEPTHI 1 and DEEPTHI 2, the trawlers were acquired in 2004 and registered under the Greek flag with the names GREKO 1 (ΓΚΡΕΚΟ 1) and GREKO 2 (ΓΚΡΕΚΟ 2).
Suspicions were raised about the status of the trawlers during investigations into a vessel called GREKO 1 in December 2016 for fishing illegally in Somali waters; the vessel was later fined. Official records, including the European Commission Vessel Register, showed a GREKO 1 and GREKO 2 as ‘scrapped’ in July 2013, just a few months before vessels using the same names and IMO numbers registered with the Belize flag.
Belize registration documents include unsubstantiated information on the GREKO 1 and GREKO 2, listing Somalia as the previous flag State and previous names as DEEQA 1 and 2, thereby removing any connection to Greece.
Currently docked in Mombasa port, the original vessel names, DEEPTHI 1 and DEEPTHI 2, can still be seen embossed on the vessels hulls, whilst no trace of the DEEQA identity has been found on either vessel or other sources, adding to the concerns that the GREKO 1 and GREKO 2 were not scrapped as claimed.
At this point there are more questions than answers and further investigations are needed to establish the extent of any fraud that may have taken place.
An information request to the EU made by the FISH-i Technical Team may provide some of the answers. Photographs of the scrapping are required to verify the decommissioning pay out and copies of these photographs would help in clarifying the actual identity of the vessels that were scrapped.
Regardless of the outcomes of this particular case, what is increasingly apparent is that loopholes and information gaps in the international system for identifying commercial fishing vessels make it easy for the system to be exploited for profit.
Per Erik Bergh of Stop Illegal Fishing commented “FISH-i Africa has conducted a thorough review of all the documentation of the GREKO 1 and 2 and we are alarmed that two vessels reported by the EU as decommissioned should end up operating in the Western Indian Ocean. We know that the GREKO 1 has a history of fishing in Somalia without a licence, using damaging gear, and operating in areas close to the shore which are reserved for local fishers. We look forward to a response from the Greek authorities to help resolve this matter.”