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Coast Guard, NOAA nab drift net violator 2,600 miles offshore

JUNEAU, Alaska - The U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday that, in cooperation with federal and international partners, it has seized a fishing vessel and crew suspected of large-scale illegal high-seas drift net fishing in the North Pacific Ocean and is delivering them to the Alaska Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement for the investigation.

Renegade large-scale high-seas drift net fishing indiscriminately kills massive amounts of fish and other marine life such as whales and turtles by means of enormous nets suspended for miles in open water. The practice is universally condemned and is a significant threat to ocean ecosystems and to the food and economic security of nations that rely on fishery resources. 

Acting on vessel sighting information provided by a maritime patrol airplane from the Fisheries Agency of Japan, Sept. 7, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro launched its MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and crew and located the fishing vessel Bangun Perkasa with 22 fishermen aboard, approximately 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska.

The Bangun Perkasa's crew reportedly abandoned their fishing nets and attempted to leave the area once they spotted the helicopter flying above them.  The vessel was determined to be operating without valid flag state registration, and seized as a stateless vessel for violations of U.S. law.  A Munro boarding team determined the vessel had more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses aboard. They retrieved the abandoned net and began the lengthy escort toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

During the transit, the Coast Guard boarding team discovered rats aboard.  The Coast Guard understands the serious ramifications that may occur if an invasive species is introduced to the local ecosystem; therefore, the Coast Guard is working closely with state, local, tribal, and agency partners to ensure all precautions and procedures are being followed to mitigate the rat infestation aboard the Bangun Perkasa before it will be allowed into port.

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement will take the case from the Coast Guard for further investigation into illegal fishing activities by this and any related vessels, as well as into those behind and profiting from this unlawful activity. Once the investigation is completed, NOAA will forward its findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"The seizure of the Bangun Perkasa highlights how international cooperation along with U.S. Coast Guard high endurance cutters can detect, monitor, and interdict high-seas drift net fishing vessels," said Capt. Gregory Sanial, 17th Coast Guard District chief of enforcement.  "This method of fishing is illegal, despicable and shows complete disregard for the world's ecosystem, and the joint effort of the many Pacific nations shows our dedication to ending this barbaric practice, enforcing maritime law and being good stewards of the environment."

"We will conduct a thorough investigation of this case and continue our work to prevent high-seas drift net fishing, which is globally recognized as an indiscriminate fishing practice that kills marine mammals, sea birds, sharks and fish," said Eric Schwaab, NOAA's assistant administrator for Fisheries. "NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement in Alaska continues to combat this illegal fishing with the help of Canada, Russia, Japan, Korea and China, our international partners in the North Pacific."

"This incident reaffirms the need for the United States to continue to work with other nations to ensure respect for international fishing rules," said Ambassador David Balton, the U.S. Department of State's deputy assistant secretary for Oceans and Fisheries. "I commend the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies for their efforts in detecting this apparent violation of such rules and in taking decisive action in response."

The Coast Guard, NOAA, and Department of State participate in international cooperative efforts to achieve U.S. goals and objectives for the sustainable management of living marine resources, as evidenced in the recent signing of a joint statement of commitment between the U.S. and European Union to cooperate in efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.  Similarly, Japan is a key partner in efforts to fight IUU fishing.  Together, the United States and its partners exchange information on IUU activities, support the adoption of effective management measures in regional and international organizations to combat IUU fishing, and promote tools that prevent IUU operators from benefiting economically from their illegal activities.

"IUU fishing is one of the most serious threats to American fishing jobs and fishing communities, as well as to the health of the world's oceans," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "This multi-national, multi-agency action and investigation demonstrates the resolve of the United States to work closely with international partners to combat IUU fishing. We will continue this investigation to identify others who may be profiting from illegal activities."

As the only U.S. agency with the combination of a high seas ship and aircraft fleet, and the legal authority to project law enforcement presence throughout the 3.36 million square mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and in areas of the high seas vital to U.S. interests, the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead U.S. agency for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws in addition to providing maritime security and safety.

"This case demonstrates how our cutters and crews allow the United States to maintain constant vigil far from the U.S. mainland and reflects the value of having a maritime service that can protect US interests including the environment, security and safety regionally and globally," said Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, the Coast Guard director of response policy. "Our high endurance cutters routinely operate from South America to the Bering Sea conducting alien migrant interdiction operations, domestic fisheries protection, search and rescue, counter-narcotics and homeland security operations for extended periods of time. The Munro, and cutters like it, are more than 40 years old and slated for replacement. National Security Cutters that are faster, better equipped, more durable, safer and more efficient than their predecessor, will continue to ensure U.S. interests are protected today and for decades to come."



Photo of: The crew of the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing, tend their fishing nets prior to a Coast Guard law enforcement boarding conducted by the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro Sept. 7, 2011. The U.S. Coast Guard actively participates in the international cooperative efforts against large-scale high-seas drift net fishing as encouraged by the United Nations moratorium.

PACIFIC OCEAN - The crew of the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing, tend their fishing nets prior to a Coast Guard law enforcement boarding conducted by the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro Sept. 7, 2011. The U.S. Coast Guard actively participates in the international cooperative efforts against large-scale high-seas drift net fishing as encouraged by the United Nations moratorium. U.S. Coast Guard photo.



Photo of: The crew of the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro monitors the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing Sept. 9, 2011. A Munro boarding team determined the vessel had more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses on board.

PACIFIC OCEAN - The crew of the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro monitors the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing Sept. 9, 2011. A Munro boarding team determined the vessel had more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses on board. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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