Squid Game – Uruguayan Navy chases and captures a Chinese fishing vessel
The capture of a Chinese fishing vessel and the detention of its crew in Uruguay on suspicion of illegal fishing is a rare case in which a Latin American country retaliates against invading fleets.
On July 5, Uruguayan authorities revealed that at least 11 tonnes of squid had been found inside the Chinese fishing vessel, the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606, after it was arrested 150 nautical miles the previous day. off the town of Punta del Este. The loot was only found during a more thorough secondary search after an initial inspection turned up nothing.
This is the latest twist in a saga that has fascinated the country for several days.
SEE ALSO: GameChangers 2021: How IUU fishing plundered Latin America’s oceans
On July 1, several vessels were reported to be fishing illegally in the waters of Uruguay’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A naval plane was dispatched to confirm the report and detected two jiggers, specialized vessels usually used to fish for squid.
On July 3, a Uruguayan patrol boat was sent to investigate and possibly detain the vessels. He found the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 606 with lights on which are used to catch squid. Authorities say the Chinese jigger initially accepted a boarding order but then tried to flee when the Uruguayan vessel dispatched personnel on speedboats.
Then begins a chase between the Uruguayan patrol boat, the ROU Maldonado, and the Chinese vessel. It lasted all night and ended in the early hours of July 4 when the jigger was caught and boarded.
The crew, made up of 14 Chinese citizens and 14 Indonesian citizens, was arrested and an administrative investigation was opened to determine if the squid had been caught in Uruguayan waters. If so, criminal charges could be filed, the attorney general’s office said.
Hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels routinely hover near Latin American waters year-round and increasingly encroach on the waters of various countries. Such is the demand for seafood in China that various species of squid, sharks, rays, tunas and many other smaller species are being taken from the seabed in huge numbers, seriously harming the population.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is considered the sixth largest illicit economy in the world, worth between $15 billion and $36 billion annually, according to a 2017 report by Global Financial Integrity.
While it accounts for around 20% of all seafood caught globally, this figure can be much higher in Latin America, reaching nearly 50% of all catch in Mexico.
InSight Crime Analytics
Uruguay’s capture of the Chinese vessel contradicts the fact that ocean conservation experts have long criticized the South American country for facilitating IUU fishing through its port of Montevideo, which serves as a depot and clearing station for illegal catches.
Oceana, a non-governmental organization that tracks IUU fishing, used data from Global Fishing Watch to search for signs of IUU fishing activity along the border of Argentine national waters from January 2018 to April 2021. According to its report, some 6,000 ships went dark, meaning the boats turned off their GPS-based automatic identification systems (AIS). Of the ships that turned off their responders, 30% docked in Montevideo, Oceana pointed out. In 2017, Oceana declared Montevideo to be the world’s second largest port for IUU catches.
Uruguay has also been called out for turning a blind eye to the unloading of dead fishing crew members in its port. Between 2018 and 2020, the deaths of 17 crew members were linked to vessels in Uruguayan waters or docked at the Port of Montevideo, according to the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Besides loud protests and demands for Chinese fleets to leave their waters, Latin American countries have often seemed powerless to hold China accountable for IUU fishing.
And despite the vessel’s recent capture, it’s uncertain whether President Luis Lacalle Pou’s government will take a different stance with China. In November 2020, Lacalle Pou explained that Uruguay could become China’s hub “to bring their products and services to the region”.
Regional responses to IUU fishing have varied, but none have been very successful. Since 2016, the presence of Chinese fishing vessels has begun to be particularly acute in the waters of Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
SEE ALSO: Chinese fishing fleet leaves Ecuador, Chile and Peru to respond
As a result, local fishermen were forced to move to new areas due to the barrenness of common fishing grounds. Marine protected areas, such as the Malpelo Reserve in Colombia or the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, have been plundered.
Yet the responses have been weak. In January 2021, four countries pledged to form a united front against Chinese fishing. It seems to have made no difference.
Acts of direct confrontation or the capture of a Chinese vessel are rare. In 2017, an Ecuadorian navy vessel chased a Chinese ship off the Galapagos Islands, warning shots were fired to force it to stop. Around 300 tons of shark meat was found on board, including endangered hammerhead sharks and even baby sharks.
Ignoring orders to stop and trying to evade pursuit are common tactics for Chinese ships, on the rare occasions authorities give chase. Detained vessels are often seized and never returned to their Chinese owners. In Argentina, a captured ship was sunk to create a diving attraction for tourists, while in Ecuador, one was handed over to the country’s navy.
Yet these isolated incidents are just a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of ships that arrive each year.
Was this content helpful to you?
We want to maintain the largest database on organized crime in Latin America, but to do this we need resources.
MAKE A DONATION
What are your thoughts? Click here to send your comments to InSight Crime.
We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at the top and bottom of the article. See the Creative Commons website for more details on how to share our work, and please email us if you use an article.