Fishing Vessel COBIJA Exploits Weak States to Escape Sanctions

By Stop Illegal Fishing:2nd Mar, 2021: FISH-i Africa

The owners and operators of known toothfish poacher COBIJA have attempted to use a series of faked and forged documents to facilitate the offloading of 228 tonnes of frozen toothfish with a value of approximately USD 4.5 million.

 

Originally listed as an illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessel under its previous name CAPE FLOWER in 2017 the vessel operators have systematically targeted weak port and flag States in an attempt to continue their illegal operations.

 

COBIJA is believed to be a stateless vessel following de-registration by flag State Bolivia in January 2019. Claims of Somali registration and ownership have been lodged through a bill of sale stating Precision Shipping in Mogadishu being the new owner.  It is also stated that the vessel has been flagged without the knowledge of the Federal Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) by the Somalia Maritime Agency (SMA) in Mogadishu.

 

However, the flagging certificate presented by the owner has been denied by Captain Hassan, Director of the Ministry of Ports and Marine Transport in Somalia. He stated, “Once again we see forged Somali documents being used to get away with illegal fishing. Not only does this undermine global efforts to control and manage fisheries resources in a sustainable manner but it also undermines Somali efforts to be a responsible coastal and flag State.”

 

On arrival in Mukalla, Yemen in September 2020, COBIJA’s Spanish captain had initially claimed the toothfish had been caught in Puntland and presented Yemeni authorities with a Puntland licence. Issued on the wrong form, with insufficient information and with a forged signature the licence was quickly confirmed as being fake. The fake licence also indicated that COBIJA was registered in Bolivia, but this was confirmed as untrue. Vessel monitoring system (VMS) data supplied by the captain indicated the vessel had been fishing within the exclusive economic zone of the Puntland region of the Federal Government of Somalia.

 

Commenting on the case Per Erik Bergh, Stop Illegal Fishing, stated, “We are used to seeing document forgery as part of our illegal fishing investigations but the COBIJA case is an extreme example. Poor quality forgeries have been used and the information they contain is not only contradictory but leads to further allegations of illegal fishing. Claims that the fish being offloaded in Yemen were caught in Somali waters are inconsistent with the fact that the species being offloaded, toothfish is found in temperate southern waters.”

 

The role of government authorities, inter-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, and international and regional information sharing have contributed to the detention of COBIJA in Yemen. FISH-i Africa members note that it will take further coordinated support and effort to ensure that this vessel, its owners and operators are finally stopped, and they call on all partners to assist to achieve this.

The FISH-i Africa Investigation can be downloaded here.

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