From December 2017 – February 2018, the Thai public prosecutors have prosecuted 7 stateless fishing vessels on three offences, namely, the falsification of Port-in Port-out documents and provision of fraudulent reports to the competent port authority; employing fishing crews with no work permits; and human-trafficking of 9 Indonesian crew and 6 Filipino crew, totaling 15 persons, who were found to be victims of forced labour onboard. Further investigation led to the arrest and prosecution of the recruitment agent with human-trafficking offences.
All 7 fishing vessels – Abundant 1, Abundant 3, Abundant 6, Abundant 9, Abundant 12, Yutana No. 13, and Shun Lai – were pelagic longline fleet fishing for tuna. They ported at the Port in Phuket Province, claiming to be carrying out repair of the vessels. The Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) then issued an order to the officers to investigate the vessels on 13 November 2016 and found an anomaly with the vessel registrations which specified that all vessels were Bolivian-flagged. The Phuket office of the Marine Department then made an enquiry to the Bolivian authority to verify the information and was later informed on 15 November 2016 that those vessels were neither registered in Bolivia nor granted Bolivian fishing license. The Thai authorities then proceeded to charge 3 representatives of the vessel owners.
The police issued the arrest warrants for the captains and impounded all 7 vessels while the criminal case was in process. Officials from the Department of Fisheries also examined the logbooks and the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) onboard while Customs officers examined the catch, which was not found. Meanwhile, CCCIF delivered humanitarian assistance to all the crew and, after the interrogation by the Royal Thai Police, all of the crew were repatriated safely to their countries of origin.
The aforementioned 7 fishing vessels were deemed stateless and came under the provision of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries, B.E. 2558 which stipulated penalties for stateless vessels and vessels that counterfeit, conceal or falsify their unique vessel identifiers or their fishing vessel registrations by giving the power to the Director-General of the Department of Fisheries to seize the said vessels and prosecuted the owners according to the law.
At present, Thailand has strictly carried out her obligations under Port State Measures Agreement by examining data on fishing vessels and foreign transshipment vessels intending to land their catches at the designated ports in Thailand even before they enter Thai waters. Thailand has also implemented an effective traceability system with the full cooperation of the flag states, coastal states and port states to ensure that all aquatic animals landed in Thailand do not come from IUU fishing.
As for the case of 7 stateless vessels, even though no catch was found on board and no landing request was made, it has paved the way for the revised Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2560 which stipulated that all foreign fishing vessels, with or without catches onboard, are required to notify the competent authorities in advance before entering Thai waters within a set period according to the Department of Fisheries’ Notification. This has helped close the legal loophole to prevent illegal foreign fishing vessels entering the territory of the Kingdom.