Durban - A Japanese vessel has been arrested for allegedly fishing illegally near the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area, south of Durban.

Officials from the Department of Fisheries in Cape Town confirmed on Thursday night that the Japanese-registered long-line vessel Koei Maru No 88 had been arrested for a variety of alleged transgressions.

A department spokesman said the owners had not been fined, but did pay R2 million as “security” for the release of the vessel.

Department spokeswoman Carol Moses also confirmed that officials were investigating a variety of marine-related transgressions and that court proceedings would follow.

The exact circumstances of the arrest are not known as Moses did not provide any further details.

However, other sources indicated that the arrest had been made last week while the Koei Maru No 88 was close to the Aliwal Shoal near Umkomaas which is off-limits for fishing.

The vessel is one of two Japanese-owned vessels leased by local companies Ngumzamo Fishing and Ferro Fishing as part of a joint venture with Japan Tuna.

The companies have a permit to fish legally off the South African coastline for yellowfin and bigeye tuna, as well as swordfish and shark.

The Koei Maru No 88 and its sister vessel Koei Maru No 1 have been sighted regularly off the KZN South Coast over the past few months, sparking concern among fishermen and marine conservation groups.

Last month, in response to queries from The Mercury, the Fisheries Department confirmed that both vessels were operating legally in terms of South African permits and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, an international, intergovernmental organisation set up to manage tuna species in the Indian Ocean.

“People become alarmed when they see foreign-flagged vessels fishing in our waters, but these vessels are perfectly legal,” the department said.

The department said that to reduce conflict with other fishing groups, foreign vessels were not permitted to operate within 20 nautical miles of the coast in KZN.

Both vessels were tracked continuously with satellite monitoring systems and both had South African scientific monitors aboard.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife also issued a press statement last month stating that: “These vessels have very strict quota and by-catch limits that they must abide by, which is closely monitored by onboard observers who are employed to monitor and ensure these permit conditions are adhered to while fishing in South African waters.”

Catches were to be off-loaded in Durban or Cape Town harbours and, as part of their permit conditions, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife or Fisheries Department officials had to be present to monitor and verify quota and by-catch limits.

“Their fishing pattern is to set their lines off the continental shelf (approximately 40km offshore) in the tuna grounds where they drift parallel to the coast for four to six hours. They then lift and check their lines and move inshore and travel up the coast utilising the near shore currents which saves fuel and time and then steam out to the tuna grounds again and set their lines repeating this cycle.”

The owners of the vessels could not be reached for comment on Thursday night.

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The Mercury