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4 Vietnamese fishers jailed over illegal exits, IUU fishing

4 Vietnamese fishers jailed over illegal exits, IUU fishing

Tuesday, January 30, 2024, 18:16 GMT+7
4 Vietnamese fishers jailed over illegal exits, IUU fishing
Tran Van Tuyen is seen at the trial for him and his three accomplices on charges of organizing illegal exits for others to commit illegal fishing in foreign waters in Kien Giang Province, southern Vietnam, January 29, 2024. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre

A court in Vietnam sentenced four fishermen to one to eight years in prison for arranging for others to illegally leave the country to engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in Malaysian waters. 

The People’s Court of southern Kien Giang Province on Monday gave an eight-year jail term to 43-year-old Tran Van Luyen, the owner of two fishing boats in the province’s Rach Gia City, the mastermind of the case.

Two of Luyen’s three accomplices, Pham Chi Dung, 59, and Tran Minh Tam, 40, were given the same seven years in prison, while the last defendant, Tran Van Nhut, 37, was sentenced to one year in jail.

All the four fishermen were found guilty of ‘organizing illegal exits for others in relation to committing illegal fishing in foreign waters,' the court said.

This was a typical hearing for seamen who committed IUU fishing violations given the efforts Vietnam has been making for the removal of the IUU fishing ‘yellow card’ warning that has been imposed by the European Commission (EC) on Vietnamese seafood since 2017, according to the Kien Giang administration.   

According to the indictment, Luyen’s two vessels were seized by Malaysian authorities on May 16, 2022 for illegally fishing in the country’s waters.

Later that month, Luyen and Tam discussed making two new profiles for the seized boats to conceal their infringement history so that they could continue using them after getting the vessels back from Malaysia.

Tam then contacted and hired Nguyen Bao Duy, a ship registration officer, to make the new profiles that indicated new identification numbers for the ships for VND400 million (US$16,350) as renumeration.

In late August 2022, Luyen, Tam, and another person went to Malaysia to retrieve the two seized vessels.

When the boats they had recovered reached the waters of the southernmost Vietnamese province of Ca Mau, they erased the existing identification numbers on both vessels before applying new ones, according to Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

In the following month, under Luyen’s direction, Dung arranged for Nhut and many others to exit Vietnam illicitly by boarding the two vessels that later encroached on Malaysian waters for illegal fishing.

Dung directed the crew to turn off the cruise monitoring devices on both boats and erase the last two digits of the ship numbers to avoid detection.

On October 18, 2022, while the pair of boats returned to the Doc River in Ca Mau to sell fish, they were stopped by a unit of Vietnam’s Coast Guard Region 4.

Following an inspection, the unit imposed a total fine of VND27.9 million ($1,140) on Dung for the absence of a captain's license, seafood exploitation certificate, and lifebuoys.

About a week later, Dung and his seamen continued using the pair of fishing boats for illegal fishing in Malaysian waters and were detected by Malaysia's naval forces.

During their escape from Malaysian forces, the two vessels illegally entered the waters of Indonesia and they were stopped and seized by Indonesian naval authorities.

Dung and the crew members of both boats were detained in Indonesia until April 2023, when they were released back to Vietnam. 

Luyen, Dung, and Tam were arrested and prosecuted between October and December 2023, while Nhut was prosecuted and banned from leaving his residence on January 5, 2024.

Regarding Duy, Kien Giang police will continue their investigation and verification of his acts and will handle his case later, Voice of Vietnam said, citing the provincial People’s Procuracy.

At court, all the four defendants pleaded guilty to the offenses specified in the indictment, saying that they committed the crimes because they needed money to support their poor families.  

They begged the court to give them light sentences so that they could be reunited with their families soon.  

Duong Tan Tai, a local fishing boat owner, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that this trial has contributed to raising awareness among fishing boat owners about legal fishing and avoiding IUU fishing activities.

"I believe that fishermen will act more responsibly and engage in legal seafood harvesting, thereby contributing to the lifting of the EU's 'yellow card' warning on IUU fishing," Tai stated.

He also suggested authorities create policies to help fishermen stabilize their lives in the long run.  

Le Quoc Anh, deputy chairman of the Kien Giang administration, said provincial authorities have long facilitated the legal operations of local fishermen and their vessels, while educating and asking them not to violate foreign waters.

Anh emphasized that any actions that violate the national interest for personal gain will face stringent punishment.

“We organize public handling of violations to help raise fishermen's awareness," the official said.

"Localities will also have policies to create other jobs for fishers whose fishing business is not enough to help them stabilize their family’s living conditions.”

After imposing the ‘yellow card’ warning on Vietnamese seafood in October 2017, the EC sent its teams to Vietnam four times for inspections, with the latest taking place in October 2023.

But the warning has yet to be removed due to limitations of some localities in compliance with relevant EC requirements, according to local media.

On November 14, 2023, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh issued a dispatch urging relevant ministries, agencies, and authorities to focus all efforts on making preparations for the fifth IUU fishing inspection by the EC, expected to take place in April 2024, so that the warning can be lifted as soon as possible.

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Vinh Tho - Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre News


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