THE three captains of the blue boats who entered our waters and stole our marine resources say they are victims of human trafficking.
This was revealed yesterday by their lawyer Public Solicitor Douglas Hou in the High Court during the mitigation and sentencing submissions of their case.
Mr Hou also told the court upon the instructions of Do Van Va, Vo Van Vi, and Nguyen Nguyen that they are not captains of the three blue boats but were merely operating the vessel at that time when they were caught.
“The whole team could actually navigate the vessel,” Mr Hou said in mitigation.
“These three accused are the unfortunate ones tasked to operate the vessel when they were caught.”
He submitted that the period served in custody should not be long as it would be unfair on the three accused now victims as other crew members of the blue boats had already went home.
He said all 40 crew members who have already returned to Vietnam and these three accused have equal roles in operating the boats and it would be unfair for the three accused if they served long period in prison.
Mr Hou said the three accused are victims of human trafficking used by the owners of the blue boats.
He said the owners of the blue boats are the real perpetrators.
He said the three accused come from very poor families and were lured to work on the boats for money.
He said in this case the court has the power to forfeit the properties and give the money to the government which could actually punish the real perpetrators who are the owners of the blue boats.
Public Prosecutor Andrew Kelesi however in his submissions brushed aside the issue of human trafficking.
He said there is no evidence before the High Court to prove they are victims of human trafficking.
“That came from the bar table and is unsafe to rely on that piece of submission,” Mr Kelesi said.
In terms of the issue of the title captains, he said at the relevant time they were apprehended, they were in charge of the vessel.
“It is important that this court must note that in deciding whatever appropriate sentence that will be imposed; the court must not succumb to the general mitigating features of the defendants but must look at the general criminality of the offenders.
“It must be noted also that this is a first ever case that comes before this court which involves the use of wooden blue boats by Vietnamese nationals,” Mr Kelesi said.
He argued that the potential profits earned from these illegal fishing by the accused are so high and that is why these people come this far to fish in our national waters.
“The three offenders have mentioned that they were harvesting beche-de-mer as it is a high valued marine product if sold back in their country.
“They have travelled a long way, ignored all serious possibility that they might encounter just to conduct their illegal activities.
“These are serious matters that this court must look closely at in arriving at a final sentence.
“These people and their activities not only posed serious risk to our Fisheries Law but other national issues as well,” Mr Kelesi said.
Mr Hou in light of Mr Kelesi’s response to the issue of human trafficking said one of the accused can give evidence under affirmation that they are victims of human trafficking.
Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer having taken note of that however said that can be used as mitigation.
He then adjourned the matter to July 14 for sentence.
The three captains have early last month pleaded guilty to the charges of illegal entry into Fisheries water without an appropriate entry permit approved by Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, prohibition of catching, selling of beche-de-mer, permitting fishing gears on board fishing vessel in the fisheries waters, and engaging in activity relating to fish processing for the purpose of export without a valid license.
They were charged under various sections of the Fisheries Management Act 2015 and Fisheries (Amendment) Regulation 2009.
The maximum penalty for these offences ranges from $100,000 to $12 million fines or five years imprisonment.
The 40 crew and three captains of the three wooden blue boats have been caught by police on 26 March this year at the Indispensable Reef, 50 Kilometres south of Rennell Island, Renbel Province.
The 40 crew after paying their fines for illegal staying in the country have already returned to Vietnam.
A total of US$4,300 fine which is equivalent to about SBD $33,454 that was imposed on them was paid to the State.
They were each imposed with a US$100 each, which totalled up to US$4,300 equivalent to about SBD $33,454.
This is pursuant to sections 28 (1) and 29 (1) read with 87 (1) of the Immigration Regulation of 2013, with a daily fine of prescribed amount of USD$20 per day for the days commencing from the date of their unlawful non-citizen in the Solomon Islands when they were sighted on the Indispensable Reef near Rennell and Bellona Province until the date of their arrest on 26 March 2017.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN