20 July 2005

Shock at 'slap on the wrist' for Korean skipper

Environmental NGOs WWF and BirdLife South Africa are outraged at the news that a Korean fishing boat skipper who broke "almost every rule in the book" was fined R50 000 and handed a suspended sentence in the Eastern Cape last week.

The conservationists are especially alarmed that the crew's misdemeanors included trying to buy off a fisheries observer, then threatening him. They're concerned too, that the suspended sentences and comparatively light fines for Hwan Lee-An, the master of the Dong Won 630 sends all the wrong signals to law-abiding, hard-pressed fishermen.

Dr Deon Nel, manager of the WWF Marine Programme puts it bluntly: "In this case the judiciary has failed us. What more must be done before a tough sentence is passed down? Do we have to wait for a fisheries observer to be thrown overboard?"

The South Korean fishing vessel Dong Won 630 had on board a Marine & Coastal Management MCM observer from Port Elizabeth, Raymond Manning, and was fishing along the South African coast. The initially friendly mood aboard the vessel changed when he was spotted videotaping illegal activities on board.

These included finning of sharks – cutting off their fins and tails and throwing the live sharks back into the sea.

Attempts were then made to bribe Manning, and once this failed he was threatened. The ship then fled and was apprehended following a dramatic overnight sea chase involving the Ruth Furst, one of new patrol ships.

The WWF and BirdLife South Africa say they're worried that the case illustrates that the courts don't comprehend the gravity of the skipper's actions.

Dr Nel says: "The fisheries observer put his life at risk to report these very serious infringements, and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) should be commended for the urgency they showed in sending out a patrol vessel at great cost to apprehend the vessel.

"Yet the legal system has allowed the transgressor to walk free with the majority of his sentence suspended. It is clear that the judiciary has no understanding of the gravity of these environmental crimes and their social and environmental consequences.

"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.

"At this sensitive time when long-term fishing rights are being allocated, we are extremely concerned about the message that this sends to those compliant South African fishing vessels that are diligently abiding by their permit conditions. The compliant fishermen must be wondering why they've bothered to abide by their permit conditions for so long, when a flagrant disregard of almost every permit condition is only punished with a slap on the wrist and a fine that is 'small change' for such a high value fishery."

He explains: "A single high quality tuna can sell for well over R100 000. With this is mind one, we can see that that the magistrate's sentence of R50 000 has the deterrent value of asking the skipper for one sub-standard tuna for his Saturday afternoon braai."

Samantha Petersen, manager of the BirdLife South Africa & WWF Responsible Fisheries Programme, said she was extremely concerned about reports that this vessel was setting its lines during the day and not using a mandatory bird-scaring line, as required by the permit conditions.

"Fishing under these conditions will result in thousands of highly endangered albatrosses being killed" said Petersen. Seabirds and especially the majestic albatrosses are drowned when they dive on baited longline hooks, are snagged and pulled under water to drown. This needless killing can be stopped by using a few simple mitigation measures.

"However, it seems that this is too much to ask from certain unscrupulous operators, even though around 300 000 of these birds are killed in this way each year. We hope that we can correct this in the future and in so doing honour the international commitments South Africa has made by recently becoming a founder member of the International Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP)".

For further information, contact:
Dr Deon Nel
Programme Manager: Marine, WWF-SA
Tel: +27 21 888 2835
Email: dnel@wwfsa.org.za

Cathryn Treasure
Marketing Manager, WWF South Africa
Tel: +27 21 888 2855
Email: ctreasure@wwf.org.za

Prof Gerhard Verdoorn
Director, BirdLife South Africa
Tel: +27 11 789 1122
Email: director@birdlife.org.za

Issued by:
William Smook
Meropa Communications
Tel: +27 21 683-6464
Email: williams@meropa.co.za

Source: WWF South Africa


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