THE High Court on Friday ordered the three Vietnamese captains of the blue boats to pay a hefty fine of $11.05million or face imprisonment.
Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer imposed the fine in default of four years imprisonment for captains Do Van Va, Vo Van Vi and Nguyen Nguyen.
The court heard that if these captains failed to pay up the fines within 30 days they will serve four years in prison.
A two year imprisonment term that was also imposed was ordered to run concurrently with the in default sentence.
The time the three captains spent in custody was also taken into account.
This fine is for charges of;
- illegal entry into fisheries water without an appropriate entry permit approved by the 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.
The captains pleaded guilty to these charges early last month.
Sir Albert told court that he is satisfied that the overall sentence of imprisonment is more than adequate to reflect the seriousness of the offences committed.
“The message must be made plain and clear that the courts of this country will not tolerate this type of offending as mandated by the laws of the land,” Sir Albert said.
Sir Albert also directed that the three Vietnamese “Blue Boats” seized to be forfeited to the Solomon Islands Government.
He said unless further uses is required of them, given any reports on their sanitary and sea worthiness condition, the vessels are to be destroyed 14 days thereafter or before, if circumstances require.
“The manner and way these offences have been committed, referred to as illegal, unreported and unregulated (“IUU”) offences by you is a new phenomenon to the region and is causing much concern, in terms of the theft of its valuable sea resources and wealth,” Sir Albert told the three accused.
“This is relatively new way of intruding into the territorial seas and coastal waters by relatively small foreign vessels to fish for inshore species, with a focus on high value product in the Asian market including beche-de-mer, giant clam and shark fin.
“The selfishness and greed for money and quick riches at the expenses of a country’s wealth and resources cannot be tolerated by this country.
“This is the first time these blue boats have been apprehended in Solomon Islands but they have also been apprehended and sighted in Palau, FSM, PNG, Australia and Vanuatu.
“It is clear you took calculated risks to enter into the exclusive economic zone of Solomon Islands waters on the view that the Pacific is a ‘soft target’.
“I can assure you and everyone else thinking of coming into our waters that if caught you will be appropriately dealt with under our laws,” Sir Albert warned.
Sir Albert also told the three accused that it is clear too that they have moved out into our waters because the waters around their country have been depleted through overfishing and unsustainable harvesting.
He warned them that this does not give them the mandate to continue with their activities in other people’s countries and they should be ashamed for what they have done.
He told the accused that he took it as one of the aggravating factors against them when they tried to escape after being sighted on 26 March 2017 on the Indispensable Reef near Rennell and Bellona.
He also raised the issue of the cost of such operation in surveillance alone, through to the conviction and eventual repatriation which can easily run up to millions of dollars for such a small country.
Credits were given for the three captains’ early guilty pleas, this is their first time in court and that they have cooperated with police.
Sir Albert however said he find it hard to believe that they were not captains as submitted during the mitigation.
He said it is only normal and reasonable to expect that someone would be given that responsibility in any circumstances, and in particular times of crises when someone has to take control and make crucial and final decisions when needed.
“On the subject of human trafficking, I find that too far-fetched in the circumstances of this case.
“You cannot be victims of human trafficking when it is a deliberate decision to engage in fishing for gain by illegal means; which is nothing less than plain criminal activity.
The three accused 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 crews 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 crews 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 imposed on them was paid to the State.
Public Solicitor Douglas Hou represented the accused while Public Prosecutor Andrew Kelesi stood on behalf of the Crown.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN