The crew of the Sea Shepherd ship, M/Y Bob Barker, has assisted Gabonese authorities in the arrest of two illegal fishing pirogues operating in waters off the coast of Gabon, Central West Africa.
The arrests followed a coordinated effort between the Marine Nationale (Gabonese Navy), the ANPA (Fisheries Enforcement Agency) and Sea Shepherd to secure the Gabonese border with the Republic of Congo (Congo) from incursions made by illegal fishing vessels.
At the time of interception the Congolese pirogues were actively engaged in illegal fishing, with gillnets, inside Gabon's territorial waters. The wooden canoes, with 11 fishermen from the Republic of Congo, Benin, and Ghana on-board, were found with a combined total of approximately 150 sharks, including endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks and black tip reef sharks as well as devil rays in their fish holds.
After the arrests the M/Y Bob Barker escorted the pirogues to Mayumba, Gabon, where they will be held pending criminal investigation.
Launched in April, Operation Albacore is a joint campaign between Sea Shepherd, the government of Gabon and more recently the government of São Tomé and Príncipe to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Gulf of Guinea.
Since the beginning of the 2016 tuna fishing season, marines from the Marine Nationale and officers with the ANPA have been stationed on-board the M/Y Bob Barker, working alongside Sea Shepherd crew to patrol Gabon's sovereign waters, under the direction of the government of Gabon.
In August São Tomé and Príncipe authorities partnered with the Operation Albacore mission, following an accord signed with Gabon in late 2015, to extend patrolling grounds and increase the protection of critical tuna habitat in the region. The M/Y Bob Barker is being provided by Sea Shepherd Global in the joint agreement as a vehicle for law enforcement.
Sea Shepherd Operation Albacore Campaign Leader, Captain Peter Hammarstedt, said, “Three months ago, a night time raid by Gabonese authorities, assisted by Sea Shepherd, resulted in the arrest of 3 illegal fishing trawlers from Congo. The recent arrest of two pirogues, using gillnets to catch endangered sharks, speaks to the importance of maintaining a constant patrolling presence to both detect and deter illegal fishing”.
All photos: Nelli Huié