The Strait of Malacca. Photo: iStock

An illegal fishing vessel that had been wanted by international authorities for years was finally captured off the Indonesian island of Sumatra earlier this month.

The ‘Andrey Dolgov’ – a 570-ton vessel that is 54 meters long – was caught near Weh Island, off the northern tip of Sumatra, not far from the Malacca Strait, by Indonesian authorities.

Naval officers who boarded the vessel found a Russian captain with five Russian or Ukrainian officers, plus 20 Indonesians. The latter members of the crew claimed they had no idea the vessel was operating illegally and were treated like human trafficking victims who were duped into working onboard.

The captain was a Russian man named Aleksandr Matveev, who was convicted of illegal fishing, sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 200 million rupiah (US$14,225). The other officers were deported back to Russia and Ukraine.

Built in Japan in 1985, this fishing boat has had a long list of names. Its most recent owner was a Russian based in Korea, who is believed to have links with organized crime.

The vessel has been confiscated by Indonesian authorities, who have taken a tough stance against illegal fishing in recent years. Groups monitoring illegal fishing suspect the Dolgov had been operating illegally in oceans around the world for at least 10 years.

Andrea Aditya Salim, one of the unit members in charge of capturing the boat, said the crew insisted that they were not fishing illegally and claimed their engine and fishing equipment were malfunctioning.

But after a search of the boat, 600 fishing nets spanning about 30 kilometers were found – equipment which is prohibited, according to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The operation to catch the boat, which had come to the attention of international agencies several years ago, started off east Africa several weeks earlier.

The vessel had previously been seized in China and Mozambique but was able to win legal battles in those countries. Owners often utilized loopholes in maritime laws and corrupt officials to avoid problems.

Former operators of the boat had been accused of money laundering and forced labor. But it was reportedly a lucrative business.

Over the past decade, the vessel allegedly made about 702 million rupiah ($50 million) from their illegal fishing. However, modern technology and greater international cooperation has made it harder for these vessels to continue to operate as they have in the past.

Indonesia, under the strong leadership of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, has seized and destroyed 488 illegal fishing vessels over the past five years.

And Pudjiastuti recently decided to convert the Dolgov so it can be part of the national fisheries enforcement fleet. So it could be renamed yet again.

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