'Super-fishing' boat Damanzaihao declared a pirate ship
An enormous fishing boat that changes flags and names routinely as it plunders the South Pacific has finally been declared a pirate ship by a Wellington-based international control agency.
Damanzaihao, flying the Peruvian flag, is the world's largest fishing vessel at 49,367 tons and appears to be operating as a mothership to a fleet of fishing vessels illegally taking Pacific mackerel between South America and New Zealand.
Effective from February 6, the Wellington-based South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) has declared the converted super tanker declared an "illegal unreported unregulated" (IUU) ship - bureaucratic speak for a pirate fishing boat.
In the notice, the organisation said Damanzaihao was named an IUU vessel because of its "prolonged presence in the SPRFMO area without authorisation and providing support to five authorised Peruvian trawlers according to evidence provided by Chile and Peru".
The organisation has also cited the Russian-flagged fishing boat Aurora, whose owner is the same Peruvian company that owns Damanzaihao.
Aurora has been listed as an IUU vessel because of "fishing in the SPRFMO Convention Area without authorisation (air photographs from New Zealand and prolonged unauthorised presence in the SPRFMO Area (evidence from Chile)".
Last year Damanzaihao carried the name Lafayette, and was flying a Russian and then a Mongolian flag.
It passed through New Zealand's exclusive economic zone. Later, in international waters east of the North Island, it met upwith four other fishing vessels and a fleet tanker.
Experts reckon Damanzaihao has a large vacuum system to upload catch from its fleet. On-board its factory workforce of Third World labour head-and-gut the catch and freeze it.
It has not declared any catch to SPRFMO.
Damanzaihao is owned by the Bermuda registered Hong Kong based Pacific Andes Food Ltd, one of the world's largest frozen fish suppliers. They claim the vessel is licensed, but SPRFMO say it is not.
New Zealand diplomatic and political pressure played a crucial role in setting up the convention to create SPRFMO which regulates high seas fishing in the South Pacific.
Official documents show several countries have doubts about the Lafayette, with even China saying it was "quite dubious" and Chile saying its operations "seriously undermine trust and confidence".
The European Union demanded an investigation after French officials found its Hong Kong owners had lied about its fishing capabilities, while Wellington says Russia is not providing "full and accurate" information.
SPRFMO is a multinational body that came into force in 2012 in a bid to fend off a collapse of Pacific mackerel that has seen the stock fall from 30 million tonnes to just three million in two decades.
Mackerel is often canned or frozen for human consumption. It is also increasingly used as feedstock for salmon farming.
Ships declared to be IUU vessels run the risk of having their catches seized and ships arrested.