Pirates, those outlaws of the high seas, have held a blurred fascination for generations. They share the allure of an in-between realm with horseback bandits, a place free of everyday rules and constricted spaces. Who doesn’t fantasize, from time to time at least, about being outside the drudgery of convention?
Just exactly who the pirates are, though, depends on whose rules they are breaking.
For years, the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been considered piratical by the ships and governments they follow and attack. Mainly, by whalers and nations that still permit whaling. And, to a lesser extent, by the allies of these countries. The Sea Shepherd’s logo plays with their self-image as pirates who challenge laws that protect those who hunt endangered marine species.
Back in 2014, the Sea Shepherd began Operation Icefish, a project to chase down and defeat another group that many would call pirates: The Bandit 6, a group of industrial fishing ships that regularly flouted international law by illegally fishing on a grand scale.
By sailing between the loopholes of international fishing regulations, frequently changing registries and flags, and leveraging conflicts between the nations that might have otherwise joined forces to stop them, the ghost ships of the Bandit 6 spent years plundering fish stocks of the Patagonian toothfish, otherwise known as Chilean sea bass.
The Sea Shepherd mission saw the longest sea chase in recorded history – 110 days – which resulted in the captain of the Thunder scuttling his ship to bury evidence of its activities. Scuttling is such a fun-sounding word for sinking the ship in deep waters and then calling on its Sea Shepherd pursuers to rescue the captain and crew according to maritime convention and law.
The Bandit 6 ships weren’t under attack because the Patagonian toothfish is endangered. At issue was the fact that the vessels, their owners and their buyers operated without accountability. Moreoever, it appears that at least some of the vessels were using slave labor to man their ships and process the catch. It’s estimated that the pirate ships hauled over six times the legal fishing limits of the so-called ‘white gold’ on an annual basis since the late 1990s.
So, as of yesterday, the Viking, the final ship in the loose fleet of the Bandit 6, was blown up by the Indonesian government off the coast of West Java.
The Sea Shepherd organization was instrumental in notifying authorities of the ships’ whereabouts, and obtaining evidence to implicate their captains. In the case of the Thunder, this involved Sea Shepherd crew members boarding the ship as it sank to retrieve the ship log and frozen catch, the very things the captain had hoped to put out of reach.
Since 2014, Indonesia has bombed 150 foreign-owned fishing ships accused of poaching, a policy meant to stop illegal fishing and promote the local fishing industry.
The wreck of the Viking is to be left as a monument against illegal fishing and a warning to the pirates currently known as illegal fishing poachers.