Korean fishing skipper gets off lightly

Jun 25, 2005
Author: P&S

Eastern Cape newspapers (EP Herald and Daily Dispatch) carried the story this week of a South Korean fishing vessel arrested at sea after a dramatic sea chase involving one of Sea Fishery’s new patrol ships.

It also appears the master of the arrested long-line shark fishing vessel, Hwan Lee-An, bit off more than he could chew when he tried to entice an official of the Marine & Coastal Management (MCM) to ‘look the other way’.

The South Korean fishing vessel Dong Won 630 had on board an MCM observer from Port Elizabeth, Raymond Manning, and was fishing along the South African coast. At first everybody on board the vessel was very friendly towards the observer, until it became obvious he was videoing certain illegal activities on board the ships.

These included the illegal dumping overboard of live sharks after their fins and tails had been removed (they die slowly this way – South African law requires the fishermen to retain the shark carcasses onboard along with their fins for comparison ashore).

According to reports the official was initially offered an inducement to ‘look the other way’, which he declined. Things then got nasty, with threats made against his well-being; until he felt the need to summon help from the authorities ashore.

As a result the sea fisheries patrol boat Ruth First put to sea and, after an overnight chase in a northeasterly direction, took the Dong Won into custody.

Once in harbour the vessel was placed under detention and the master arrested. Appearing in a Port Elizabeth court a few days later, evidence was led that relations between the crew and Manning had been excellent during the first few days at sea, during which Manning observed the harvesting of shark fins and tails along with the dumping overboard of plastic and other non-biodegradable material.

However, once the crew noticed that he was videoing the laying of long lines during the daytime – illegal because of the danger it poses for albatrosses and other sea birds becoming snared on the hooks when they dive for the bait - things turned nasty. Initially offered an inducement to ‘look the other way’ Manning was threatened when he made it clear he intended laying a charge once the vessel returned to port.

Hwan Lee-An had been charged with three counts of breaking the conditions of his permit. These related to illegal de-finning of sharks and the dumping overboard of their carcasses; dumping non-biodegradable material overboard; and interfering with the duties of a MCM official.

The permit issued to Dong Won 630 required the bodies of the sharks be retained until the vessel returned to port, where they could be compared with the fins already removed. Manning gave evidence that instead the shark carcasses were dumped overboard to make space for more fins.

On this charge Hwan Lee-An was fined R1 million (or two years in jail) which was suspended for five years.

On a second charge of dumping non-biodegradable material overboard Hwan was fined R150,000 or 18 months imprisonment, of which R100,000 or 12 months was suspended for five years.

On the charge of interfering with the duties of the MCM observer on his ship, he was fined R50,000 or six months, which was also suspended.

Considering the gravity of the charges, which included threats against an official going about his work, plus the cost of mounting a sea chase to apprehend a fleeing vessel, the South Korean can consider himself lucky in getting off so lightly.

NB The full reports can be seen at www.epherald.co.za and www.dispatch.co.za, to whom this article is acknowledged


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