Chinese fishing boat held after chase
A red tide of illegal fishing could be heading for South African waters. While government officials are still waiting out poor weather before boarding and fully inspecting an impounded Chinese fishing vessel, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana told the Sunday Times yesterday that the threat of illegal fishing could be moving south."There is that worry. We are concerned," Zokwana said.He was speaking after nine fishing ships - heading from China to the Democratic Republic of Congo - were flagged for "suspicious activity" this week. Yesterday, Zokwana confirmed that none of the vessels had obtained a permit to enter South African waters.On Thursday, the ships were flagged down by a navy vessel and told to enter the nearest port for an inspection, which would also have included any fish. Initially they co-operated, then everything changed."Along the way, they stopped and informed the patrol vessel that they were communicating with the owner of the vessels," said Zokwana. "Eventually, the vessels stopped co-operating at all and switched off their engines until sunset. When they started their engines they did not communicate with the inspectors [but] started steaming west at an increasing speed."story_article_left1The ships switched off monitoring and tracking systems and scattered. The patrol vessel kept up with one ship, and it was escorted to Cape Town, arriving at 3am yesterday.Charges of entering South Africa's exclusive economic zones without a permit and disobeying lawful instructions have been laid - but Zokwana said more could be added after the inspection.He said that although it was unlikely, but not impossible, that the vessels were fishing illegally, their actions were "dodgy" enough to justify a full search. "At the time, the speed they were running at is not fishing speed. Fishing speed is three to four knots, but they were at 10. What they were doing is worrying, because if there was nothing dodgy, I don't understand why they weren't able to co-operate. Illegal fishing is a concern," said Zokwana.Just this week, the Argentinian coast guard sank a Chinese ship for fishing illegally in its waters.Johann Augustyn of the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association said the behaviour of the vessels lookedsuspicious. "It could be that they had illegal gear on board or even illegal catch."