On 22 February 2018, the Special Chamber of Judges on Illegal Fishing Cases at the Criminal Court imposed a two-million Baht fine for illegal fishing on the owner of the overseas fishing vessel named “Ruenglarp 9”. The defendant failed to bring the said vessel back to port within the timeframe established by the Department of Fisheries’ Notification. The case is the first being deliberated by the aforementioned Special Chamber of Judges since its inauguration on 1 February 2018.
The order of the Criminal Court was derived from the fact that the Ruenglarp 9, a commercial fishing vessel weighing 192.17 gross tons, had left Thai waters since 12 March 2015 to fish. Later on, the Department of Fisheries had issued a Notification on 25 December 2015, requesting all owners of fishing vessels, weighing 30 gross tons and above and operating outside Thai waters to bring the vessels back to port within 30 days of the issuance of the Notification. However, the owner of Ruenglarp 9 failed to comply with the Notification. Thus, the Department of Fisheries made a complaint to the Royal Thai Police to begin criminal proceedings against the owner.
After the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries came into force on 13 November 2015, the Department of Fisheries issued the Notification ordering all overseas vessels to return to Thai port as part of attempts to get all the overseas vessels regulated through the registration and the issuance of licenses. At present, the Department of Fisheries has not permitted the overseas vessels to operate outside of Thai waters until regulations and measures on fisheries and onboard labour protection are completely ready for enactment.
Last January, the Criminal Court set up two special chambers of judges to solely handle illegal fishing cases, and to have a final ruling within 6 months after the case is accepted. This will enable laws to be enforced more swiftly and effectively with a view to deterring other wrongdoings by fishing operators. To date, there are 65 overseas vessels being prosecuted totaling 80 cases, 55 of which have reached final conclusions. The maximum sentence has been 1 year and 15 months imprisonment and fines of over 130,000,000 Baht (approximately over 3.5 million Euros). All 65 vessels’ registrations have been revoked, and they will not be able to apply for a new license for 5 years.