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Illegal fishing: alert in Uruguay due to the presence of a Chinese vessel in the Port of Montevideo

In the image, the Port of Montevideo.  EFE/Federico Anfitti/File
In the image, the Port of Montevideo. EFE/Federico Anfitti/File

The presence of Chinese ship Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 days ago in the Port of Montevideo alerted environmental groups that demand a substantive solution to the problem of foreign illegal fishing.

As detailed The Observerthanks to real-time monitoring it was possible to detect that The Chinese ship Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 was off the Uruguayan coast near the port of Montevideo since at least last Thursday, October 6. Its about same ship that on July 3 was captured by the Navy then that he did not comply with the “order to stop”.

The Chinese ship Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 in the episode of last July (Photo: Uruguayan National Navy)
The Chinese ship Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 in the episode of last July (Photo: Uruguayan National Navy)

Consulted by the Uruguayan media, from the Uruguayan Navy they did not deny the presence of Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 but pointed out that the Chinese ship was not breaking the law. It is that the ships that were detained by the Navy can return to the Port of Montevideo without any problem due to the existing legal vacuum in terms of laws that prevent it.

The most worrying thing, environmentalists warn, is the lack of infrastructure for inspections of the hundreds of Chinese-flagged ships. that are considered illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities.

The port of Montevideo is one of the favorites of foreign fishing fleetscomposed mainly of Chinese vessels, which engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities. This type of illicit is considered one of the most important threats of the seas, even displacing piracy.

Crew members of a Chinese fishing boat that landed in the Port of Montevideo, in Uruguay.
Crew members of a Chinese fishing boat that landed in the Port of Montevideo, in Uruguay.

Montevideo is one of the top 15 ports in the world based on the size of the holds of the foreign fishing vessels that dock there. The Uruguayan port serves as a hub for landing, transshipment, processing, and re-export. It is one of the three ports that are in this category along with the port of Manta in Ecuador and Callao in Peruaccording to a 2019 scientific investigation that analyzed the activity of vessels and the risk of fish caught by IUU fishing passing through the world’s most important fishing ports.

The problem that several experts have identified is not that Uruguay receives foreign vessels, since that port by international regulation can do so, but that the authorities do not properly supervise these ships and that they even receive ships with dark histories.

In accordance with the Latin American Agreement on control of ships by the Port State or Viña del Mar Agreement, signed in 2015 by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, the maritime authorities of these countries must carry out an effective control to guarantee “without discrimination in terms of flag, that foreign ships that visit the ports of their State comply with the standards established in international instruments.”

However, the authorities of the port of Montevideo have been accused of not complying with these supervisions. The marine conservation specialist and expert on illegal fishing in Latin America, Milko Schvartzman, in a interview with infobaeassured that in 2019, Uruguayan authorities supervised 33 of the 320 vessels that docked at the port and “of that 10% that were inspected, only one was Chinese-flagged. Despite the fact that the majority are Chinese vessels, the Uruguayan government inspected only one and no vessel was sanctioned.”

I’ve seen them myself, I’ve taken pictures. It is as if a vehicle travels without a license plate”, Schvartzman revealed. “These are boats that do not have life jackets, fire extinguishers, no minimum security measures that meet international standards.”

Suspected illegal transshipment within the EEZ of Uruguay.  (Courtesy of Milko Schvartzmann).
Suspected illegal transshipment within the EEZ of Uruguay. (Courtesy of Milko Schvartzmann).

The agency that authorizes the entry of these ships to the port of Montevideo is the Dinara. The shipping companies that want to enter must present certain documentation, from the name or distinctive sign of the vessel to what they caught; and it is checked that they do not appear on illegal lists.

“There are more than 320 unregulated undeclared vessels” that dock in the port of Montevideo. “Just about the cargo we are talking about between 500 million dollars and 1 billion dollars,” Schvartzman told The Observer.

A 2018 report from the Healthy Oceans organization stated that “The Port of Montevideo is listed as the second in the world to receive transshipment fishing suspected of being IUU.”

A presentation on the fishing situation in Uruguay, made by the Uruguayan senator Gustavo Penades, in 2021, he assured that it is false that “Montevideo is the second port in the world in illegal fishing discharge.” However, he confirmed that in 2015, the port of Montevideo was the second most visited port in the world by ships. reefer (vessels that function as large freezers where the fishing of other ships is stored) and that in 2019 284 foreign fishing vessels and 21 reefers entered the port of Montevideo.

That this port has been the second in the world to receive reefers raises suspicions in line with criticism from environmental organizations. Lhe reefers receive the catch of other boats. Many times these transshipments are made on the high seas. In 2015, there were 1,500 unloadings in Montevideo, more than half corresponding to ships that transshipped on the high seas.

According to Insight Crime, “transshipment encourages IUU fishing” through the use of these reefers, as they not only receive the fish caught but also supply supplies to the fishing fleets. The specialized security platform indicates that “Distant water fishing fleets use the transshipment system to fish for entire months outside the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the countries.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), transshipment on the high seas is used to cover up activities such as illegal fishing, drug trafficking, arms trafficking and human trafficking.

Chinese fishing vessel detained in Uruguay for alleged illegal fishing

The dead crew members arriving in Montevideo

In 2014, a group of 28 Africans disembarked from a Chinese ship in Montevideo and refused to return to the ship. The workers denounced that they had not received their salary, that they ate a plate of rice a day, that they worked in chains and that they were beaten. Some even had tuberculosis. The Healthy Oceans organization has denounced slave labor, trafficking and death in the port of Montevideo.

The latest Report on Trafficking in Persons in Uruguay from the United States Department of State, published in 2021, found that Between 2018 and 2020, there were 17 deaths of crew members of Chinese-flagged fishing vessels and other countries that docked in the port of Montevideo and in Uruguayan waters. The document indicates that, prior to 2018, observers reported an average of 11 crewmember deaths per year, on average 1 crewmember killed per month.

According to him United States Department of States, foreign workers aboard these ships are subject to abuses indicative of forced labor, including unpaid wages, confiscated identification documents, and physical abuse. There are even anecdotal reports of murders at sea. The trafficking report also indicates that citizens of other countries, including China and the Dominican Republic, may transit through Uruguay en route to other destinations, particularly Argentina, where some are exploited.

Andrés Milessi, biologist and coordinator of the One Sea Project in Uruguay, spoke with Infobae and explained that foreign vessels “use the port of Montevideo to unload when they do not transship in international waters or for repairs or in some cases even for disembark deceased. Milessi indicated that when the vessels request authorization to enter the port, an inspection protocol is generated. “We know that this situation has improved in recent times and (as an NGO) we are working together with the Uruguayan government to perfect the protocols,”

The Uruguayan investigative journalist, Sabina Goldaracena, agrees with Milessi that Chinese fishing vessels enter the port of Montevideo, to repair their boats, to seek medical attention or to disembark the deceased.

Biodiversity in danger

According to Pew, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, the port of Montevideo began to be described by experts in fishing crimes as a “port of convenience”used by illegal vessels to unload Patagonian toothfish that would have been illegally caught in the Southwest Atlantic.

For example, the highest risks for IUU fishing for squid jiggers were recorded on Chinese-flagged vessels using the port of Chimbote, Peru (3%), Callao, Peru (3%), and Montevideo, Uruguay (2 %), and from South Korean ships whose ships use the port of Montevideo, Uruguay (2%), according to an academic study published in April this year in the journal Nature Communications.

The overexploitation of bioaquatic resources, explained Milessi for Infobae, in addition to climate change, has caused the populations of Hake, the main fishing resource of Uruguay and Argentina, has decreased or that the specimens are becoming smaller or immature.

In the case of distant water vessels, researchers find an obstacle when carrying out their studies because these fleets do not declare their catches, so, according to Milessi, they work based on estimates to know the status of the species.

But not only hake would be in danger. A report of greenpeace on the impact of overfishing in the Southwest Atlantic in 2019 warns about the threats of overfishing in the Blue Hole, located 1,333 kilometers (720 nautical miles) south of Montevideo. In this space there are “unique ecosystems and iconic fauna, such as the southern right whale, and other species classified as vulnerable, such as the sperm whale.”

According to Greenpeace, the Blue Hole is one of the areas of international waters most exploited by “ships that sweep the seabed and indiscriminately destroy marine life”. The study notes that foreign fishing vessels “operating in the Blue Hole are virtually unregulated, making the Blue Hole a Wild West exploited primarily by fishing vessels from mainland China, Korea, Taiwan, and Spain.”

The overexploitation of fish stocks not only affects the balance of the maritime ecosystem but also puts local fishing at risk. According to the Uruguayan senator Gustavo Penadés, “the (fishing) sector has experienced a continuous decline in the last 20 years and today its survival is in a difficult situation, which threatens thousands of jobs.”

The Western South Atlantic area shared by Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil is one of the only areas of international waters where there is no regional fisheries management organization (RFMO). RFMOs, according to Global Fishing Watch, manage fishing beyond national jurisdictions, that is, they supervise fishing activity on the high seas.

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