Vietnamese blue boats plunder the Pacific
- Category: News
- Published: Tuesday, 04 October 2016 13:31
- Written by Bill Jaynes
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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
September 6, 2016
Pohnpei, FSM—The so called “blue boats” from Vietnam have become a scourge of the Pacific.
Painted a color of blue that matches the sea and carrying no electronics as they are required to do, they are almost impossible to track in the vast Pacific Ocean. The boats cost almost nothing to buy or to operate. According to the FSM Department of Justice, they aren’t registered anywhere
If countries catch them it’s up to those countries to figure out what to do with them. Countries violated by the boats have confiscated them. They’ve burned them. They’ve even blown them up in spectacular fashion. Sinking, burning, or blowing up a blue boat may be spectacular images for the media and the rest of the world but it does little to keep the blue boats from scavenging the world’s oceans. The Vietnamese scavengers keep coming back because losing a boat is simply not enough of a deterrent to keep them away. There’s simply too much money to be made.
And profit they do. Clayton Lawrence, FSM Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor said that the fishermen can make enough money in one trip to pay for all of their expenses including the purchase of the boat and its fuel.
The “blue boats” are a huge drain on local finances when they are caught and a huge drain on ecosystems when they are not.
The US Coast Guard’s Admiral Vincent Atkins told US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel during a tour of the marine surveillance vessels at the dock in Dekehtik, Pohnpei last week that simply taking the vessels from the “blue boat” operators isn’t enough of a deterrent to keep them from coming back.
The Vietnamese fishermen detained in Pohnpei for their crimes told the (DOJ) before they were deported that they target the FSM because it is known that they can profit from the sea cucumber in their waters. Other target areas include Australia, Philippines, and Indonesia.
“They are worse than tuna illegal fishermen,” said Eugene Pangelinan, Director of the FSM’s National Oceanic Resources Management Agency (NORMA). “They are actually coming in close to our homes and taking fish that we depend on.”
He says that the Vietnam government should step up to the plate and prosecute offenders when they get back home but that is not happening.
According to a DOJ summary report provided to Pacific Islands journalists gathered for a NORMA press briefing, since December of 2014 the FSM has arrested more than nine Vietnamese vessels and approximately 169 Vietnamese. The FSM has borne the substantial cost of detecting the vessels, making the arrest, transporting them, feeding them and then repatriating them.
“To date, the Vietnam Government has never assisted the FSM government financially in repatriating its citizens back to Vietnam or assisting financially to provide for the basic needs of the Vietnamese while they are detained in the FSM,” the DOJ provided fact sheet says.
"...to find a thief in your house, and have to treat them as honoured guests and pay their passage home as their 'punishment'. No wonder some of them are return offenders,” wrote a person posting on a social media site in regards to a TVNZ news story, an “exclusive” on the problem of the “blue boats”.
That story claimed that the fishermen were victims of human smuggling. In that regard, the story certainly was exclusive. The network conducted interviews with people from India and Nepal who in fact had paid significant amounts of money to be smuggled from Indonesia to the US, Australia, and New Zealand but those people were not involved in the issue of the “blue boats” as DOJ Prosecutor Clayton Lawrence made clear during his briefing of more than a dozen journalists, mainly from the Pacific Islands who were on site while footage was being shot by the film crew from Tahiti.
The people TVNZ interviewed were not the Vietnamese fishermen who the FSM deported on September 1 after a plea arrangement, well before the journalists arrived in Pohnpei. The Indian and Nepalese people arrived on “green boats” in Yap in November of 2014 and were transported to Pohnpei several months ago because Yap could no longer afford to feed and house them. They lived for more than a year at the Yap dock. They were only aboard the Vietnamese “blue boats” when the TVNZ film crew interviewed them because that is where they are being housed until they are repatriated.
Lawrence said that the Indians are set to depart by the end of this month and the remainder of them will be gone by the end of October. The journalists who stayed to hear the briefing rather than running off to do a separate story knew that the Indian and Nepalese residents of the blue boats at the dock had nothing to do with the blue boat story other than that they are currently living there.
In fact, as part of their plea arrangement the Vietnamese crew members told DOJ that the vessels are purchased in Quang Ngai and that each crew member buys a share. Profits from the 1000-3000 kilograms of sea cucumber are then split in proportion to the percent in share.
It is true that the DOJ charged the Vietnamese fishermen with illegal fishing without a permit, illegal entry for entering the country without an appropriate entry permit, resisting arrest, and yes, also for human smuggling for knowingly arranging or assisting another person’s illegal entry into the FSM. But theirs was not a case of a people smuggling ring in the classic sense as TVNZ claimed in their “exclusive” coverage. The Vietnamese never intended to stay in the FSM, only to plunder its waters, a different matter entirely, and perhaps even more insidious if there can be such a thing.
The Indians and Nepalese were not in fact taken off the Vietnamese fishing boats as TVNZ claimed. They are a completely separate case of people being cared for at FSM expense while their repatriation is organized.
The fishermen told DOJ that the price for one of the small boats which can handle 10 to 13 crew members is about 300 million Vietnamese Dong, approximately $12,000. The small boats carry 25,000 liters of fuel when they leave port in Vietnam. They return to port when the fuel gets down to 10 or 15 thousand liters of fuel. The big blue boats which can carry 16 to 17 crew members cost around 600,000,000 Dong, approximately $24,000. The bigger boats carry approximately 35,000 liters of fuel and return to port when the fuel has reached 15,000 liters.
The price for diesel fuel in Vietnam has only changed negligibly in the last few months. On September 5, the price per liter was 50 cents USD. At that price, it costs about $12,500 to fuel an extended journey on one of the bigger boats. The journeys are intended to last two to three months and they bring enough food for that period of time.