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By Maika Bolaitiki

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, May 22) - Swift action by Fiji’s Maritime Surveillance Center has resulted in the seizure of a foreign fishing vessel in Fiji waters.

Fiji navy spokesman Captain Bradley Bower confirmed yesterday that six armed navy officers of the RFNS Kula had boarded the fishing vessel with two fisheries officers without any resistance.

Captain Bower said in such an operation, the navy officers needed to be armed because they might receive a hostile reaction.

When the six officers boarded the vessel, Lian Chi Sheng, east of Vatoa Island in Lau on Thursday, the other officers on the RFNS Kula covered them.

Bower said the fishing vessel had been suspected of illegally fishing within Fiji’s archipelago waters.

He said when the officers boarded the ship they conducted their own routine check while the two fisheries officers checked the boat’s fishing gear and the catch.

It was through fisheries officers’ instruction that the boat had to be escorted back to Suva for further investigation, as it had no valid license.

Bower said the captain and crew of the foreign vessel cooperated despite the language barrier.

The MSC had been monitoring the movement of this vessel within Fiji waters since March 28.

On Wednesday, the vessel sailed throughout Fiji’s internal waters from Kadavu and Lomaiviti and the navy was alerted when it reached Lau waters.

The RFNS Kikau left Suva at 7.30 p.m. and sighted the foreign vessel near Totoya. From then on, it trailed the fishing boat until it caught up with the vessel near Ogea.

The ship had left Fiji waters to unload her catch in Port Villa, Vanuatu and returned. A request from MSC Fiji to Vanuatu Fisheries revealed the vessel was after shark and shark fin, which she was not licensed to do in Fiji waters.

The seizure of this illegal fishing vessel was the first this year.

A major player in Fiji's fishing industry, Grahame Southwick, yesterday congratulated the MSC and the Fiji navy on a wonderful job.

He said the catch in the Fiji waters had been declining and one major contributing factor was illegal foreign fishing vessels. "They just come, fish and go back as if they have a fishing licence to fish in our waters," Mr Southwick said.

The vessel arrived last night and Bower said from now on the matter would be handed to the Fisheries Department to and the police for further investigation.

May 24, 2004


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