Fishing vessels registered in the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia have been filmed "laundering" illegally caught tuna, environment activist group Greenpeace International said yesterday.
Greenpeace said it recorded secret transfers of skipjack and yellowfin tuna involving four ships just outside Indonesia's exclusive economic zone in the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, with the tuna likely to be destined for the canned market.
Two Indonesian vessels and one Philippine ship were transferring their hauls to a Chinese-owned but Cambodian-flagged vessel, the Heng Xing 1, so that the origin of the catches would remain secret, according to Greenpeace oceans campaigner Farah Obaidullah.
"This is a huge trans-shipment, the hold [of the Cambodian vessel] was the size of a basketball court and it was knee-deep in tuna," Obaidullah said.
Obaidullah was speaking by telephone from Greenpeace vessel Esperanza, which has been sailing the Pacific looking for illegal fishing activities and is continuing to follow the Cambodian-registered ship.
Obaidullah said the practice of transferring tuna from one vessel to another in international waters was a common way for companies to hide illegal fishing in various countries' exclusive economic zones.
"They skirt in and out of the national waters into the high seas [international waters] to launder the fish," Obaidullah said. "No-one knows where the tuna was caught and how much was caught."
She said foreign vessels typically went into the waters of a small Pacific island country and illegally fished there.
In the case documented by Greenpeace, the captain and crew of the Cambodian-registered vessel allowed the activists on to their boat but said they had no log books to show where the fish came from.
Obaidullah said one way to combat the problem was to ban fishing and transferring of catches in the so-called high-seas pockets of the Pacific Ocean.