Posts Tagged ‘poachers’

S.Africa opposes online rhino horn auction

August 18, 2017


© AFP | Rhino horn is worth more than gold or cocaine per kilo on the black market
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa said Friday it would oppose an online auction of rhino horns due to start next week, as outraged conservationists said the sale would undermine the global ban on rhino trade.

The three-day auction by South African John Hume, who runs the world’s biggest rhino farm, comes after a ban on domestic trade in the country was lifted three months ago.

The government said it would fight Hume’s court application to be granted sale permits.

“The Minister of Environmental Affairs is opposing the application,” the government said in a statement on Friday, declining to comment further.

Hume’s lawyer Izak du Toit claimed the permits had already been approved — but not issued.

“We will go to the High Court on an urgent basis,” du Toit told AFP, ahead of the auction due to start on Monday.

Hume and some other campaigners say poaching can only be halted by meeting the huge demand from Asia through legally “harvesting” horn from anaesthetised live rhinos.

He has stockpiles of six tonnes of horns and wants to place 500 kilogrammes under the hammer.

South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos, some 80 percent of the worldwide population, but in recent years has suffered record slaughter by poachers.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails.

It is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases — as well as an aphrodisiac — in Vietnam and China.

While any auctioned horn could not exported from South Africa, conservationists fear the sale will stimulate black market demand and undermine the four-decade old international ban on rhino trading.

The auction website is in English, but also in Chinese and Vietnamese.

Currently a rhino horn is estimated to fetch up to $60,000 a kilo on the black market — more than the price of gold or cocaine.

Joseph Okori, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), described the auction as “deplorable”.

“There is deliberate motive to target people in countries where people consume rhino horns,” Okori told AFP.


Philippine police arrest rare sea turtle poachers — “We suspect that these two are dealing with Chinese poachers.”

July 7, 2017


© DUMARAN-MPS/AFP | Philippine police said Friday they had seized 70 dead hawksbill marine turtles, a critically endangered species illegally trafficked for its prized shell.

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine police said Friday they had seized 70 dead hawksbill marine turtles, a critically endangered species illegally trafficked for its prized shell, and arrested two suspects.Hawksbills face an extremely high risk of extinction according to Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature as their shell is used for making jewellery and hair ornaments.

Two local men were arrested Thursday while transporting the dead hawksbills by boat off the coast of Dumaran town on Palawan island, police chief Arnel Bagona told AFP.

“We suspect that these two are dealing with Chinese poachers,” Bagona said by telephone.

The marine turtles, who roam the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, are typically found around coastal reefs, estuaries and lagoons.

Philippine conservation law prohibits their collection and trade.

Palawan, an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands in the South China Sea, is famous for its abundant marine life that are targeted by poachers.

Chief Inspector Bagona said poachers usually bought the hawksbills and other rare Palawan-based species from locals.

Hawksbills retailed for at least 3,500 pesos ($69) each in the black market, he added.

He said police asked prosecutors Friday to file charges against the suspects for taking endangered species, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to five million pesos (about $99,000).

The suspects told police they planned to deliver the dead sea turtles to the island of Balabac, about 400 kilometres (249 miles) south of Dumaran, he said.

Bagona said the remote island is infamous as a trading place for wildlife poachers.

Poachers kill white rhino after breaking into French zoo

March 8, 2017


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© Martin Bureau, AFP | This file photo taken on August 1, 2002, shows two rhinoceros at the Thoiry Zoo, west of Paris.

Video by Alexander AUCOTT


Latest update : 2017-03-08

Intruders at a French zoo shot dead a white rhino and hacked off its horns in a grisly overnight poaching incident, police and the zoo said Tuesday.

The zoo in Thoiry outside Paris said it was the first such incident in Europe.

The perpetrators forced the main gate and broke through at least two other security barriers on Monday night, without disturbing five people who live on the grounds.

The animal, a four-year-old southern white male named Vince, was attacked inside an area where at least two other rhinos are kept.

“Staff left the rhino enclosure on Monday. When they returned on Tuesday, an animal had been killed and its two horns had been sawn off,” a police spokeswoman told AFP.

She added that the horns were “probably cut off with a chainsaw”.

The rhino had been shot three times in the head.

“Only the main horn was stolen,” the spokeswoman said.

View image on Twitter

IRF is saddened to hear of the tragic killing of a young male rhino at the Thoiry Zoo just outside of Paris. 

The two other rhinos in the enclosure with Vince which were unharmed were a 37-year-old female, Gracie, and a five-year-old male, Bruno.

Thierry Duguet, the manager of the zoo, told AFP: “This has never happened before in a zoo, either in France or in Europe.

“We are extremely shocked and upset — this is supposed to be a sanctuary for the animals.”

Highly coveted

Investigators estimate the horn is worth 30,000-40,000 euros ($31,700-$42,250).

Black market rhino horn sells for up to $60,000 per kilo — more than gold or cocaine — with demand principally coming from China and Vietnam where it is coveted as a traditional medicine and supposed aphrodisiac.

In the last eight years alone, roughly a quarter of the world’s rhino population has been killed in South Africa, which is home to 80 percent of the remaining animals.

Thoiry zoo is equipped with video surveillance, but cameras are not installed in the area where the rhinos live.

Staff were left distressed by the attack.

Colomba de Panouse, part of the family which set up the zoo, told AFP: “The rhinos’ warden, Elodie, is very distressed by what’s happened.

“She was the one who made this macabre discovery and now she can’t talk,” because of the shock.

The zoo said in a statement: “This was carried out despite the presence of five members of staff who live on the site and (despite) security cameras.”


 (Paris isn’t Paris anymore row)

 (October 3, 2016)

An elephant in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

An elephant crosses a road in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, on Oct. 1, 2015. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP)


Mainland Chinese Fishing Methods Called Rapacious and Indiscriminate by Taiwan — “Methods damage the environment and all sea life”

November 27, 2016


By Chiu Chun-fu, Wu Cheng-feng, and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer
Taipei Times

Rapacious and indiscriminate fishing methods used by Chinese fishing vessels are not only damaging the marine ecology in Taiwanese territorial waters, but are also depriving Taiwanese fishermen of their source of livelihood, the Taiwan Coast Guard Administration (CGA) said.

While amendments passed in June last year increasing fines deterred Chinese fishing boats for a short time, with the number of Chinese fishing boats in the area dropping from 277 in 2014 to 79 last year, poachers have been acting in concert of late, the administration said.

Chinese ships were using bad weather to their advantage to fish illegally in Taiwanese waters, making it more difficult for the coast guard to board their ships, the CGA said, adding that a large number of vessels entered Taiwanese fishing grounds in August and used electrofishing, triple-layered gillnets, roller trawls and even poison to catch fish.

China fishing — triple-layered gill net is hoisted onboard a fishing boat from Fujian Province, China in Keelung Harbor on April 2. Photo credit Wu Cheng-feng –Taipei Times — Triple-layered gill nets have been outlawed in many ares of the world due to their rapid depletion of fish and other creatures.

The administration said that in March it stopped a Chinese ship named Ching Ching Fishing 05055 south of the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) and found three green sea turtles, 15,000kg of coral, 400kg of giant clams and tadpole snails, as well as 40kg of toxic chemicals onboard.

Captain Huang Hsuan-kai (黃宣凱), head of the administration’s patrol force in Kinmen, said Chinese fishing boats scoured fishing grounds so thoroughly that they could in one night deprive other fishermen of a catch for three days.

Academia Sinica researcher Cheng Ming-hsiu (鄭明修) said fishing zones around the Pratas Islands and Penghu were the most severely damaged, as they were frequented by illegal fishermen from China and Vietnam.

In the past five years, the CGA has driven Chinese ships away from the two zones more than 700 times, Cheng said, adding that 90 percent of fishing resources in the region have vanished in the past 30 years.

Strong action must be taken to defend waters within 3 nautical miles (5.5km) of the coast, as such areas are typically the zones where fish and shrimp lay their eggs, Cheng said.

A recent spike in the number of crabs and shrimp in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里) and Penghu shows that fish that eat young shrimp and crabs are disappearing, Cheng said, adding that if allowed to continue, the food chain would be disrupted.

Keelung Coastal Fishing Association director Lin Hsin-yung (林新永) said that Chinese ships often electrified their roller trawls, which causes great damage to marine life, as well as coral.

Lin said he had heard Chinese fishermen say that they were fishing in Taiwanese waters because their own coastal fishing supplies were running low due to the over-use of blast-fishing techniques.

Lin added that some Chinese ships try to get a cut from Taiwanese fishermen by trying to “muscle” their way into Taiwanese boats to get a share by force.


Pangolins: Targets of Smugglers and Traditional Medicine Makers in Asia — At the “Brink of Extinction”

November 15, 2016


© AFP / by Jenny Vaughan | An estimated one million pangolins have been plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade

Pangolin Mi Bo has seen better days. He arrived at a rescue centre in Vietnam missing a paw after it was cut off in a snare trap.

The rest of his body is marked by red lacerations, and he will probably never regain enough strength to return to the wild.

But he is among the lucky ones.

Rescued from poachers, Mi Bo and dozens of other pangolins are being nursed back to health by Vietnamese conservationists fighting to save the scale-covered creatures from extinction.

The reclusive pangolin has become the most trafficked mammal on earth due to soaring demand in Asia for their scales for traditional medicine and their flesh, considered a delicacy.

An estimated one million of the animals, often called “scaly anteaters”, have been plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade, shunting them onto the list of species at the highest risk of extinction.

About the size of a small dog, pangolins are defenceless in the wild, curling up into a ball when they are scared, allowing poachers to easily scoop them up.

Their dire predicament will be on the agenda at a major wildlife conference opening in Hanoi on Thursday, which will be attended by Britain’s Prince William — a champion of better-known endangered species such as elephants and rhinos.

At the rescue centre in Vietnam, a team of staff and volunteers work late into the night to keep the latest batch of nearly 60 pangolins alive.

“They have a second life here, they’re kind of born again,” Nguyen Van Thai, director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, said from the leafy rehabilitation centre in Cuc Phuong National Park southwest of the capital.

A previous group of rescued pangolins arrived barely alive after being stored on ice by poachers who thought it would keep them fresh.

Others have been stripped of scales or pumped full of fluids to make them look fatter to prospective buyers.

The sorry state of the animals leaves no shortage of work for veterinarian Lam Kim Hai, who treats up to 10 pangolins a day.

“I feel at the same time sad and angry,” the 24-year-old told AFP after treating Mi Bo for over an hour under a heat lamp.

– ‘Delicious and nutritious’ –

Although the pangolin trade is illegal in Vietnam and they are in the government’s “red book” of endangered species, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, law enforcement remains weak.

Authorities have even been caught selling the endangered animals after seizing them from poachers, according to media reports.

With a booming traditional medicine industry, Vietnam remains both a destination and source country for illegally poached wildlife.

Pangolin flesh is also prized.

Like in China, their meat is steamed, boiled or grilled. It is eaten on special occasions or to grease business wheels, mostly among members of Vietnam’s growing wealthy class willing to spend as much as $1,000 for each creature.

“I don’t care if it’s name is mentioned in the red book. Whenever I have guests or partners who want it, I absolutely have to obtain it for them,” Vu Trong Phat, a 45-year-old real estate and construction boss, told AFP at a local pub.

At that price, nothing goes to waste. Customers often drink their blood, and their scales are used in special elixirs believed to cure anything from impotence to menstrual cramps to asthma and even cancer.

The scales have also been used as guitar plectrums.

“Pangolin meat is very delicious and nutritious and very good for your health,” said government employee Nguyen Van Thinh, 56.

“Pangolin scales are… very good for heart and blood circulation diseases. Any woman who has no milk for her child can be cured just with a small quantity of the medicine,” he told AFP at the pub.

He shares that belief with many others across Vietnam and China, though there is no scientific evidence for any of the supposed medical benefits of pangolin products.

Scientists don’t know how many pangolins are left in the wild, since the nocturnal and notoriously shy animals are difficult to track.

But experts say the size of illegal pangolin hauls in Asia has grown in recent years — in 2015, two tonnes of dead pangolins from Nigeria were found in a single seizure in Hong Kong.

– Brink of extinction –

With wild populations plummeting, some fear that traders may be seeking to set up breeding farms — which conservationists fear are just a cover for black-market trafficking.

Pangolins are also difficult to keep alive in captivity and breeding farms would not necessarily boost their numbers.

“That is not a conservation solution, it’s nothing we would support. It seems to be just kind of a way to aid and abet the (illegal) trade,” John Baker, managing director of WildAid, told AFP from California.

The Hanoi conference follows a decision at a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) summit in September to include pangolins on its “Appendix 1” — the highest level of protection that outlaws all trade in animals facing possible extinction.

Thai, the 34-year-old director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, said he has watched in dismay as pangolin numbers have fallen through the floor.

“It’s really sad, it’s like over 20 years later and there are no pangolins in this area. We need to take action,” he said.

by Jenny Vaughan


© AFP/File | The ivory and rhino horn trade is officially banned in Vietnam, but its use in traditional medicine and for decoration remains widespread, especially among the communist country’s growing elite

Mostly for show? Many experts say yes.

Vietnam Seizes Ivory Hidden in Timber Shipment From Nigeria

November 2, 2016

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnamese authorities have seized 446 kilograms (981 pounds) of ivory illegally shipped from Nigeria after finding 3.5 tons at the same port last month, an official said Wednesday.

The ivory seized Tuesday had been hidden in timber in a container at Cat Lai port in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, Customs official Le Dinh Loi said.

Authorities seized 3.5 tons of ivory in three shipments smuggled from Africa at the same port last month.

State media say 1 ton of ivory costs $1.8 million on the black market.

Vietnam will host an international conference on illegal wildlife trade in Hanoi later this month that is expected to be attended by Britain’s Prince William, a vocal critic of the trade.

Elephant ivory is used as jewelry and home decorations in Vietnam, which bans hunting of its own dwindling population of elephants.


 (October 27, 2016)

© AFP | Workers remove ivory hidden in timber as policemen and officials look on at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh City

 (October 3, 2016)

An elephant in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

An elephant crosses a road in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, on Oct. 1, 2015. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP)

Vietnam seizes third illegal ivory shipment in a month

October 27, 2016


© AFP | Workers remove ivory hidden in timber as policemen and officials look on at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh City

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam customs officials have seized nearly one tonne of ivory hidden in a timber shipment from Kenya, an official said Thursday, the third major illegal haul of precious tusks in less than a month.The communist nation is a popular transit route for illegal ivory from Africa heading to other parts of Asia, namely China, where it is used for decorative and medicinal purposes.

Ivory products are also hot in Vietnam, though the trade is officially banned.

The latest haul from Kenya was discovered at a port in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday, where it was carefully hidden in a shipment of timber logs — a common practise among smugglers.

Some 3.5 tonnes of ivory have been discovered at the city’s Cat Lai port this month, all in crates of wood, including a hefty two-tonne haul packed into a single shipment.

“All that ivory was not just to be consumed in Vietnam,” a customs official told AFP, requesting not to be named.

“We believe much of it was to be later be transferred to the main market, China.”

Elephants left as orphans are cared for at the Nairobi National Park in Kenya thanks to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

This week’s cache reportedly originated in Kenya’s Mombasa port and was sent to Malaysia’s Tanjung port before arriving in Vietnam, according to state-run Thanh Nien newspaper.

Vietnam outlawed the ivory trade in 1992, but shops still sell ivory dating from before the ban and weak law enforcement has allowed a black market to flourish.

A two-week survey by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) last year found out that more than 16,000 ivory products were available in Hanoi.

Vietnam is hosting an international conference on illegal wildlife trade from November 17 to 18, which will be attended by Britain’s Prince William, a vocal critic against illicit wildlife trafficking.


 (October 3, 2016)

An elephant in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

An elephant crosses a road in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, on Oct. 1, 2015. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP)

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Meets In South Africa

September 24, 2016
A man drives a pick-up truck carrying a mock rhino during a demonstration marking the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild, Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24, 2016

A man drives a pick-up truck carrying a mock rhino during a demonstration marking the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild, Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24, 2016 (AFP Photo/Marco Longari)

Johannesburg (AFP) – South African President Jacob Zuma opened the world’s biggest conference on the international wildlife trade in Johannesburg Saturday with a warning of the dire consequences of failing to tackle the demand for elephant ivory, rhino horn and hundreds of other endangered wild animals and plants.

Over the next 12 days thousands of conservationists and top government officials are due to thrash out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species.

The plight of Africa’s rhino and elephants, targeted for their horns and tusks, in particular, is expected to dominate much of the gathering.

The booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Opening the conference, Zuma said it was vital that nations worked together to pull species back from the brink.

“Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction,” Zuma said.

CITES’ secretary general John Scanlon said the meeting would “review trade controls of close to 500 species of wild animals and plants”.

“High on the agenda we have the African elephants, the rhino, the pangolin… the silky shark,” he said.

And while Scanlon hailed the deep commitment of all those taking part, he warned that “they sometimes have differing views on the best way to achieve this”.

A coalition of 29 African countries is pressing for a total halt to the ivory trade to curb poaching of elephants, but other delegates believe it would only fuel illegal trading.

A recent census revealed that the savannah elephant population has declined by 30 percent over seven years.

Britain’s Prince William said in a pre-CITES speech this week that the census confirmed that “one of our planet’s most treasured species is on course for extinction at the hands of poachers and traffickers”.

He added that when he was born there were one million elephants roaming Africa, but they could be extinct in the wild by the time his one-year-old daughter Charlotte turned 25.

Illegal trade in wildlife is valued at around $20 billion (18 billion euros) a year, according to CITES.

It is ranked among the world’s largest illegal businesses alongside arms, counterfeit goods, drugs and human trafficking.

Several hundred activists meanwhile marched near the conference venue to push for the “strictest possible protection” for the most vulnerable species.

– Insatiable demand –

CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals.

On rhino horn trafficking, CITES banned that trade 40 years ago, but prohibition has not reduced illicit hunting, which has recently boomed in South Africa.

Around 5,000 white rhino — a quarter of the population — have been slaughtered over the past eight years, with the majority killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s rhino.

Rhino poaching is driven by insatiable demand in Vietnam and China for the horn, which is mistakenly believed to have medicinal powers curing everything from hangovers to cancer.

But China is now taking steps to clampdown on the domestic demand for ivory.

“China has made significant moves to combat illegal trade in wildlife,” Scanlon told reporters, adding it had started prosecuting people involved in illegal trade and reducing demand by closing down local retail markets.

Other species high on the CITES radar are devils ray, rock geckos, tomato frogs and the African grey parrot.

Scanlon warned that illegal wildlife trafficking was “occurring on an industrial scale, driven by transnational organised criminal groups”.

Besides animals, timber will be a focus.

When it first came into force in 1975, CITES only regulated a handful of timber species, but three years ago there were 600 types of timber listed under its appendices.

This year there are 250 species proposed for listing, especially of sought-after rosewood.


Hong Kong trade ‘providing cover for smuggled ivory’ — Hong Kong environment official halts BBC interview about ivory trade

May 1, 2016

BBC News

8 April 2016 Last updated at 23:01 BST

The growing illegal trade in ivory is being driven by demand in China and Hong Kong, where the buying and selling of ivory is still legal.

But conservationists say the domestic market is just providing a cover for the illegal trade in smuggled ivory.

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports

Rupert filed the video at the link:


‘Can we stop this?’: senior Hong Kong environment official halts BBC interview about ivory trade

 By Jeffie Lam
South China Morning Post

Christine Loh demurs when pressed by journalist to publicise list of city’s legal dealers

UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 4:06pm

Hong Kong’s deputy environment minister told journalists to turn off their cameras after she was asked why a list of the city’s legal ivory traders could not be made public.

“I don’t know, actually, I am not quite sure how to answer this question,” undersecretary for environment Christine Loh Kung-wai told the BBC during an interview published today.

“I think you have to ask one of our … can we not take this on?” said Loh, motioning her fingers as she looked at the camera. “[Because] I just simply don’t know.”

“But it’s your list, isn’t it?” the journalist asked.

“Can we stop this? Can we agree to stop this?” said Loh as she extended her hands gesturing the crew to stop filming. The video footage later showed the senior official standing up.

The city’s notorious ivory trade was the focal point of the interview. In January, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced Hong Kong would ban the import and export of ivory – a move regarded as historic by animal welfare activists.

But campaigners against the ivory trade have been pressing the government to publicise a list of legal ivory traders in the city, arguing it would improve transparency in the secretive trade and help them verify whether rules were being enforced.

While Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said in 2014 the administration would consider the idea, last year an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Departmentspokesman turned it down.

The spokesman said a public list “would involve disclosure of personal information and those related to the business of the licensees, which is considered inappropriate.”

Loh told the Post she did not want to comment on the BBC report, but said it did not offer the government an opportunity to explain the matter.

“I felt sorry so I was being candid [in the interview]…I was indeed not familiar with that particular detail of that policy,” said the undersecretary, who added she immediately arranged for another department official to speak with the BBC the same day she was interviewed.

Loh said that making the list public might raise privacy concerns and that the government shared the list with the Customs and Excise Department whenever needed.

Related from the South China Morning Post:

Related on Peace and Freedom:


 (Contains links to several related articles)

Chinese tourists have posted photographs of themselves online showing off their catch, including endangered reefer sharks and red coral. Photo: Guangzhou Daily



In this April 13, 2013 photo released by the Philippine Coast Guard, an officer of the Philippine Coast Guard holds a frozen pangolin or scaly anteater on board a Chinese vessel that ran into the Tubbataha coral reef, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, in the southwestern Philippines. Authorities discovered more than 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) of meat from the protected species inside the Chinese vessel F/N Min Long Yu. (AP Photo/ Philippine Coast Guard)


Endangered green turtles crawl toward Honda Bay in the Philippines, after being tagged and released into the wild.  Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Live and Dead sea turtles confiscated from Chinese poachers by the Philippine National Police. Photo by PNP-SBU-PIA

Challenging Illegal Fishers and Poachers: Sea Shepherd “Militant Conservationists”

April 6, 2016

By Ernest Kao
South China Morning Post

A militant conservation group has urged China to “do the right thing” and prosecute those engaged in illegal fisheries following a “high seas pursuit”of alleged poachers in the contested South China Sea last month.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s flagship, the M/Y Steve Irwin, managed to chase one of six Chinese-flagged boats from the Indian Ocean back to the southern port of Zhuhai. The group claimed it was fishing illegally using drift nets.

M/Y Steve Irwin

The pursuit led the Steve Irwin into the South China Sea, where several countries including China – which lays claim to nearly all of it – are engaged in bitter territorial spats. The chase ended in Zhuhai, where the ship disappeared.

Dolphins, brown seals, blue and mako sharks as well as critically-endangered bluefin tuna were found in drift nets the Fu Yuan Yu 76 left behind before fleeing. The UN slapped bans on the use of drift nets in the 1990s.

Captain Sid Chakravarty said his crew had sent “all the evidence” to the Chinese authorities and Interpol. “We really hope the government will do the right thing,” he added. “It is all up to them now.” The group claimed the fishermen breached “at least 10” different national and international fisheries laws.

Speaking in Hong Kong on Wednesday during a fuel stopover – the first for a Sea Shepherd vessel – Chakravarty described the risky escapade, which saw one of the fishing vessels “take a swipe” at the Steve Irwin, “coming within 10 metres” of its bow.

The Fu Yuan Yu 76 led them to two “Chinese navy warships” just 70 nautical miles from the Spratly Islands. The ships demanded information and the activists reported the alleged crimes.

The Steve Irwin stumbled onto the fleet while pursuing a different group of illegal toothfish poachers near Antarctica. The skipper said the risks were factored in. “This was our first taste of the heat in the South China Sea,” he added.

Chakravarty said operation “Driftnet” was a success overall as the poachers were no longer operating in that part of the Indian Ocean.

Asked whether more Sea Shepherd operations would take place in the region, Chakravarty said the situation in the South China Sea was “too heated” and no place for an NGO. “There isn’t exactly an enforcement vacuum here right now,” he said.