Last week, New Caledonia released a Taiwanese vessel that was seized in November 2003, after fishing illegally in the maritime zone. And now, New Caledonia is seeking to extend its co-operation with neighbouring countries, to monitor and control foreign fishing vessels.
MACLELLAN: 'San Sheng 168' is finally heading home. This Taiwanese fishing vessel was seized for illegal fishing last November. French surveillance flights spotted the boat fishing in New Caledonia's territorial waters. And as the Taiwanese vessel tried to escape, it rammed a New Caledonian fishing boat, causing extensive damage. The Taiwanese vessel was later seized by the French Navy and taken to Noumea. Vincent Denamur is head of New Caledonia's Agency for Fishing and Maritime Affairs. He says that New Caledonia will continue to punish illegal fishing in its waters.
DENAMUR: We've noted the presence of boats conducting illegal fishing in New Caledonia's Exclusive Economic Zone. The records of the French Navy patrolling the zone show about 20 sightings of clandestine fishing boats. From these 20 sightings, two boats were able to be detained and brought to the port of Noumea. The captains of these two Taiwanese vessels involved in long-line fishing were taken before the courts, were convicted and fined. One captain was also charged for ramming a French vessel, and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. And in a systematic manner, we've been confiscating the fishing gear and the catch found on board.
MACLELLAN: The Taiwanese captain of the San Sheng 168 was first sentenced to six months in jail and fined a total of US$180,000 for illegal fishing and attempting to evade authorities. His prison term was later extended after he was found guilty of failing to assist sailors from the New Caledonian fishing boat damaged while he was trying to evade the French Navy.After the jailing of the boat's Taiwanese captain, New Caledonia found itself host to the 14 crew members who came from the People's Republic of China. The French government eventually paid for the crew members to be repatriated for humanitarian reasons, as they'd been living without wages since last December. Now, the San Sheng 168 has finally been allowed to leave New Caledonia. The local government is seeking to extend co-operation with neighbouring Pacific countries, to monitor such illegal fishing. New Caledonia now has observer status at the Forum Fisheries Agency - the Honiara-based organisation which links independent island nations. Maritime agency director Vincent Denamur says that New Caledonia is working to formalise links with regional monitoring programs.
DENAMUR: There are some proposals for co-operation with the Forum Fisheries Agency. Some are relatively well advanced, such as plans for information sharing, and for the transmission of results from the satellite system which tracks fishing boats, known as VMS - the Vessel Monitoring System.
MACLELLAN: The French government is also working to extend its maritime surveillance and monitoring programs to islands close to New Caledonia, with proposals for co-operation with neighbouring Vanuatu. Vincent Denamur:
DENAMUR: Apart from co-operation with the Forum Fisheries Agency, there's a bilateral initiative by the French government. France is negotiating an agreement with Vanuatu which is almost complete, to allow for vessel monitoring which will benefit Vanuatu.