The Daily Dispatch reports that China has officially stated that its arrested fishing vessels were fishing legally and had the necessary permits and China was seeking "prompt and appropriate settlement” of the investigation “in line with the friendship and cooperation between our countries”.
While it is clear that the arrested fishing vessels, the MFV Fu Yuan Yu 7880, MFV Fu Yang Yu 7881 & MFV Run Da 617, are authorised by the South Pacific Regional Fishery Management Organisation to harvest fish in the South Pacific Convention Area only. These vessels are authorised to use pole and line gear when fishing in the Convention Area waters.
This High Seas fishing license certainly does not authorise these vessels to enter South African waters and more importantly does not permit these vessels to fish in SA waters.
As none of the arrested vessels had section 39 licenses issued by the Fisheries Department under the Marine Living Resources Act to enter our EEZ, the vessels committed a serious violation of our law. It is akin to a foreign national crossing a South African terrestrial border illegally through a hole in the proverbial border fences. Such a violation carries a R5 million penalty plus possible forfeiture of the IUU vessel, arrest of the Captain and officers, and forfeiture of all fish on board the vessel.
There are numerous other less serious violations that the vessels may be guilty of under the MLRA and other SA laws.
China - as the flag state - should provide the South African fisheries department with all VMS data for each of the arrested vessels from the time these vessels entered our waters to determine if they were illegally fishing while having entered our waters illegally (i.e. without having been granted permission under section 39 of the MLRA). The VMS data will conclusively establish the intentions of these vessels while in SA waters.