An international tribunal will today decide whether to allow the release of a vessel with alleged Hong Kong links said to be involved in pirate fishing. In what is being viewed as a landmark case, Russia has asked the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to reduce a A$4.1 million (HK$18 million) bond placed on the fishing boat Volga. The vessel was seized by Australia in sub-Antarctic waters this year. Australian authorities believe the Volga is one of many ships that belong indirectly to a Hong Kong-based firm, Pacific Andes International Holdings, owned by Ng Joo Siang and his family. The ship is believed to be part of a pirate fishing fleet which is plundering stocks of the increasingly rare Patagonian toothfish, a species so valuable it is known as 'white gold'. The board of Pacific Andes in October 'categorically denied' it or any of its subsidiaries owns, controls or operates vessels involved in the illegal fishing. The Volga and its crew were arrested near remote Heard Island in the Southern Ocean in February. In its hold was 127 tonnes of toothfish. The Volga was taken to Fremantle in Western Australia, from where most of its crew was repatriated. The Australian government set a bond of A$4.1 million for the boat and is also holding A$1.9 million in proceeds from the sale of its illegal catch. Russia has appealed to the tribunal, which sits in Hamburg, to lower the bond to A$500,000. Conservationists fear that if the Volga is granted a reduced bond, it will simply pay the money and return to illegal fishing. Quentin Hanich, an oceans specialist with Greenpeace, said: 'It's highly likely the Volga will return to the fishing grounds to poach more toothfish if the bond for its release is lowered. 'Pirate fishers see lower bonds as a cheap way to get their boats and skippers out of jail and back into lucrative pirate fishing.' Russia is a member country of the UN's 24-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Greenpeace believes pirate fishermen are now moving from flag-of-convenience countries such as Panama to commission members like Russia and Uruguay, which apparently turn a blind eye to their operations. The poachers launder their illegal catch through a legitimate documentation process, with the backing of the rogue states. Mr Hanich said members of the UN conservation body should demand that Russia end its support for pirate fishing. In 2.5 years, vessels from Russia, Uruguay and South Korea are estimated to have stolen about 14,000 tonnes of toothfish from the Southern Ocean. Experts predict toothfish fisheries will collapse in 10 years if poaching continues at its present rate.