Thailand heightens law enforcement to combat IUU fishing and illegal labour practices in overseas fishing activities
Regarding the progress made in law enforcement to combat IUU fishing and illegal labour practices in overseas fishing activities, the Thai authorities take decisive actions to bolster law enforcement against illegal fishing and labour practices in the fishing industry. Four new measures are introduced to prevent fishing and labour-related offences involving overseas fishing operations by Thai-flagged vessels.
1. A temporary ban on at-sea transshipment of aquatic animals
The Department of Fisheries prohibits Thai-flagged vessels from engaging in any transshipment of aquatic animals at any sea outside Thai waters for a period of 180 days.
Exception to the ban is made only in cases where the vessel is given authorization in accordance with the regulations of the coastal state where the transshipment takes place, or where such transshipment is under the supervision of a relevant international organization, or where there is a qualified fisheries observer on board to monitor the transshipment.
The ban, introduced pursuant to Article 87 of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries, is designed to eliminate the possibility of transshipment of IUU fish by Thai-flagged vessels operating in high seas and territorial waters of foreign states. The measure is also expected to help prevent illegal at-sea transfer of seamen between fishing vessels.
The Thai authorities have been developing their technical capabilities to monitor and control transshipment at sea effectively. All fishing vessels operating outside Thai waters are now tracked by the authorities using the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). Hence, any suspicious at-sea transshipment activities will be detected and promptly investigated, and the vessels in question will be inspected upon returning to port. Those found violating the transshipment ban, which is considered a “serious infringement” under Article 114 of the Royal Ordinance, are subject to a range of administrative sanctions, including the confiscation of the catch and the revocation of their fishing licenses (Article 113), and a maximum fine of 100,000 baht (about 2,600 euros) (Article 155).
2. Inspections of Thai-flagged fishing vessels operating outside Thai waters
A special task force comprising officers from concerned agencies are conducting inspections of 42 Thai-flagged fishing vessels operating outside Thai waters in the Indian Ocean. To date, the task force has inspected 24 of these vessels. The remaining 18 vessels which are still in the Indian Ocean will be inspected during their return trips to Thailand. In this regard, the Director-General of the Department of Fisheries has ordered all vessels operating outside Thai waters, which did not previously report to one of the Port in – Port out Control Centers when porting out, to return to port for inspection by 30 January 2016. Failure to comply could result in a fine of 2,000,000 baht (about 51,000 euros) (Article 152).
Representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Greenpeace were invited to observe the inspection during 2-5 January 2016. After the inspection, ILO and Greenpeace representatives were impressed with the well-organizaed operations, during which the seamen on board were interviewed, their documents checked and their records collected. The ILO and Greenpeace representatives expressed their appreciation to the Thai authorities for giving them the opportunity to observe the inspection.
The inspection scheme has so far uncovered cases of infringements of related fisheries and labour laws, namely the Thai Vessels Act, the Immigration Act and the recently enacted Royal Ordinance. Examples of offences include the absence or expiration of valid overseas fishing license, the failure to record fishing data in the logbook, and the use of illegal migrant workers on board without appropriate work permits and employment contracts. Legal action is being taken against vessel owners found to have violated the laws.
The Royal Ordinance imposes substantial penalties on cases of serious infringements. The owner of a fishing vessel of 150 gross tonnage or more that carries out fishing outside Thai waters without a fishing license is subject to a fine of 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 baht (about 500,000 – 750,000 euros) or 5 times the value of the aquatic animals caught, whichever amount is higher. The owner of a fishing vessel of 150 gross tonnage or more that fails to report the logbook is liable to a fine of 2,000,000 baht (about 50,000 euros). The use of illegal seamen without a valid seaman’s book or work permit is liable to a fine of 400,000 – 800,000 baht (10,000 – 20,000 euros) per seaman.
3. Observers on Board
The Royal Ordinance specifies that every Thai-flagged fishing vessel operating outside Thai waters must have a fisheries observer stationed on board to ensure that fishing operation complies with international standards and fisheries regulations. The observer’s main tasks are to observe the fishing operation, collect data and the specimen of aquatic animals caught by the vessel for traceability purposes, and submit a summary report to the competent official. In addition, the presence of the observer helps to prevent illegal labour practices on board.
The first batch of observers (20 of them) completed their training in December 2015. The Department of Fisheries have been preparing operating manuals and report forms, and formulating necessary rules and regulations to ensure the effectiveness of the observer program. The process is being expedited so that the observers can begin working on board selected vessels operating in the High Seas or the Indian Ocean, tentatively in early 2016.
4. Monitoring, Control and Surveillance: Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and the Fisheries Monitoring Operation Center (FMOC)
The Department of Fisheries has set up a Fisheries Monitoring Operation Center (FMOC) equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology. The VMS system is already operational, enabling us to monitor real-time activities of all fishing vessels above 60 gross tonnage (approximately 2,000 vessels). Automatic alarms are being upgraded to detect suspicious illegal fishing activities.
These VMS capabilities result in more effective monitoring, control and surveillance of Thailand’s commercial fishing fleet. The systems also help authorities identify and track high-risk fishing vessels, especially those operating outside Thai waters, with a view to prevent and combat IUU fishing. In this regard, the authorities are seeking technical cooperation with international experts from the U.S. and the E.U. to further enhance their monitoring capabilities, especially in risk and behavioral analysis of fishing vessels.
All the above measures are part of the government’s far-reaching effort to reform Thailand’s fisheries management in line with international standards. The latest moves followed a comprehensive revamping of the fisheries legislation and the adoption of the Fisheries Management Plan and the National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing (NPOA-IUU). Inspections of seafood processing plants are being carried out, with a number of factory owners already charged with violations of labour and related laws.