After a four-month pursuit, the fishing vessel Thunder appears to have been scuttled.
This is one of a handful of ships that Sea Shepherd characterizes as a poaching vessel. The boat crew seek toothfish, a form of cod, in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd said that the crew did so illegally.
The Thunder, sank off Sao Tome, the environmental organization said.
The Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon were in the process of rescuing the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who were all able to disembark to life rafts from the Thunder before it sank, the organization said.
Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “When my chief engineer boarded the Thunder in the hours leading up to the sinking, he was able to confirm that there were clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done, doors and hatches were tied open and the fish hold was opened. It is an incredibly suspicious situation, to say the least.”
Sea Shepherd said it has been able to confirm that, at this time, there have been no reported injuries.
The crew of the Thunder have been supplied with food and water, and will now be received by the Sam Simon, it said.
Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said, “With the safety of my own crew also in mind, we will now take every precaution to ensure that the crew of the Thunder is retrieved from the lifeboats safely.”
The Thunder is one of six vessels that Sea Shepherd calls the Bandit 6 that are known to engage in illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing of vulnerable toothfish.
The Bob Barker has been engaged in a four-month pursuit of the vessel, which has gone from the Southern, to the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans.
On Dec. 25 the Sam Simon commenced retrieval operations to remove the illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. More than 72 kilometers of illegal gill net was recovered over a three week period and over 1,400 fish, weighing a total of 45,000 kilograms, were returned to the ocean.
On Feb. 25, the Sam Simon handed over the confiscated fishing gear as evidence of the Thunder’s illegal fishing activity to authorities in Mauritius.
In March, another two of the Bandit 6, the Viking and Kunlun, were detained by authorities in Southeast Asia. The captains of both vessels were arrested for fisheries related crimes.