In mid-August, a patrol boat working in Galápagos National Park, tasked with monitoring the restricted waters, picked up an unauthorized ship in the area. Because these waters are protected, the Ecuadorian government allows very few ships to sail here. Authorized ships include patrol boats, research vessels, and select tourist ships and cruise ships. The unknown vessel turned out to be illegal Chinese fishermen, who had killed up to 6.600 endangered and threatened sharks for their fins. Now, in a swift enactment of justice, an Ecuadorian judge has sentenced 20 of these poachers to between one and four years in prison, as well as fined them $5.9 million USD.
Illegal Chinese fishermen kill thousands of sharks
When the patrol boat hailed the illegal vessel, it received no answer. Because the ship was in an area known for an abundance of sharks, the patrol ship’s crew suspected that the unknown ship was involved in illegal fishing. Upon inspection, the illegal vessel turned out to be the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, an illegal Chinese fishing vessel as suspected. Unable to give chase, the patrol boat hailed the authorities. Ecuador sent out their Navy and Coast Guard who caught up with the ship.
Upon boarding the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, authorities were met with a gruesome sight — the fins from around 6,600 sharks, totaling over 300 tons of shark fins. Ecuadorian authorities brought the vessel to port in order to conduct an investigation and inspection, and arrested the fishermen on board. Ecuador will maintain control of the boat and will dispose of the shark carcasses and fins at sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China opposed any form of illegal fishing, and was paying great attention to the case. Chunying maintains that there was no evidence that the ship was fishing Ecuadorian waters, but rather that it had unknowingly transited through the Galapagos protected zone.
Positive as it is that authorities captured this vessel, its existence even in areas such as the Galapagos highlights a sad fact: numerous vessels just like it sail the ocean every day, illegally fishing either in open sea or inside marine sanctuaries.