Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Sea Shepherd anti-poaching ship ‘Bob Barker’ has reported that the unflagged toothfish-poaching vessel ‘Thunder’ has sunk in 4000 metres of water, 19 nautical miles north of the Equator and 115 miles from Sao Tome.
The Sea Shepherd ships ‘Bob Barker’ and ‘Sam Simon’ have rescued the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who were all able to disembark to liferafts from the ‘Thunder’ before it sank.
The evidence is that the Thunder was deliberately scuttled by her captain to destroy the evidence of their illegal fishing operations in the Southern Ocean.
Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said: “When my Chief Engineer boarded the Thunder in the hours leading up to the sinking, he was able to confirm that there were clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done – doors and hatches were tied open and the fishhold was opened. It is an incredibly suspicious situation, to say the least.”
The 40 crew of the Thunder are presently onboard the Sam Simon and under observation as Sea Shepherd awaits a response for assistance from Nigeria or Sao Tome.
The pursuit of the Thunder has ended after 110 days with the Thunder sunk and no injuries to the crews on any of the vessels.
Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said: “With the safety of my own crew also in mind, we will now take every precaution to ensure that the crew of the Thunder is retrieved from the lifeboats safely.”
The Thunder is described as the most notorious of six vessels, which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6”, that are know to engage in Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing of vulnerable toothfish in the Southern Ocean.
The Bob Barker has been engaged in a four-month, record-breaking pursuit of the vessel, which has gone from the Southern, to the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans.
On December 25 2014, the Sam Simon commenced retrieval operations to remove the illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. More than 72 kilometres of illegal gillnet was recovered over a three week period and over 1,400 fish, weighing a total of 45,000 kilograms, were returned to the ocean.
On February 25 2015, the Sam Simon handed over the confiscated fishing gear as evidence of the Thunder’s illegal fishing activity to authorities in Mauritius.
In March, another two of the Bandit 6, the Viking and Kunlun, were detained by authorities in South East Asia. The captains of both vessels were arrested for fisheries related crimes.
The poaching vessels are the target of Sea Shepherd’s first Southern Ocean Defence Campaign to target IUU fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica, Operation Icefish.