The Crew of the Chinese Fishing Boat Caught in Galapagos Waters is Headed for Prison

An Ecuadorian court has sentenced the officers and crew of the Chinese ship caught with 300 tons of fish, including 6,600 shark carcasses, to prison. The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was detained by authorities about 40 miles north-east of San Cristobal, within the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), on August 13th.  Read the full story on our blog here

The court announced the sentences after just three days of proceedings. The captain of the ship was sentenced to four years in prison, the top three officers each received sentences of three years, and the 16 crew members were each sentenced to one year. In addition to jail terms, the crew was ordered to pay $5.9 million in restitution to the Galapagos National Park. The ship has also been confiscated and ownership of the vessel will be transferred to the Galapagos National Park Directorate, according to news reports within Ecuador. We are not currently clear on whether the crew will appeal the verdict or what their options are in this regard.

The incident, which was the largest-ever seizure of its kind within the GMR, sparked indignation and set off protests in the Galapagos Islands. There was speculation that Ecuador's extreme indebtedness to China could tip the scales of justice in favor of the ship's crew. The speed at which the verdict was reached and the severity of the sentences, however, appear to be positive signs that Ecuadorian courts are taking environmental crimes committed within the GMR seriously, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators. 

Until recently, it was commonplace for those caught fishing illegally within GMR to receive slaps on the wrist or not face any consequences at all for their actions. This is why IGTOA provided the non-profit Sea Shepherd with a $10,000 grant in 2013 in support of a project to improve judicial response to marine crimes committed in the Galapagos. Since then, it appears that Ecuadorian courts have toughened their stance on these types of crimes. In 2015, in a landmark ruling, an Ecuadorian court found the crew of the Fer Mary 1 guilty of illegal fishing within the GMR, marking the first time in history that all defendants in an illegal fishing case in the GMR were successfully prosecuted and convicted. 

IGTOA and its member companies laud the Ecuadorian government and the court for their quick and effective response to this terrible incident. It is our sincere hope that the sentences handed down by the court in this case will send a strong message to Chinese fishing syndicates and others who have set their sights on the abundant waters of the GMR that illegal fishing and poaching within the reserve will not be tolerated. 

Matt Kareus

Matt is the Executive Director of IGTOA.

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