Peru’s ports allow entry of Chinese ships tied to illegal fishing & forced labor

Peru’s ports allow entry of Chinese ships tied to illegal fishing & forced labor
  • Experts say that as of October, around 75 foreign vessels, most of them Chinese, entered Peruvian ports in 2023 without carrying a satellite tracking device Peru requires of foreign fleets.
  • Mongabay Latam analyzed the background of 56 vessels that entered between June and August 2023 and found that at least 10 belonged to companies with a history of illegal fishing or forced labor.
  • Experts cite deficiencies in port inspections and say Chinese-flagged ships have continued to turn off their satellite systems on the Peruvian border at sea to avoid detection.

In August 2020, Peru introduced a regulation requiring foreign ships using the country’s ports to carry an extra satellite device so authorities could more closely track the route and movements of each vessel before it enters port.

Fishing sector representatives and researchers welcomed the decision because some Chinese vessels may have been turning off their satellite systems in Peru’s territorial waters to fish illegally, according to an analysis by the satellite monitoring platform Global Fishing Watch.

As of October 2023, however, at least 75 foreign vessels, most of them Chinese, have entered Peruvian ports without the additional satellite device. Most of these arrivals have occurred since June. Fifty-six Chinese-flagged vessels entered Peruvian ports June 1 and Aug. 18, according to data from Peru’s Ministry of Production that Mongabay Latam accessed via a public information request. The numbers are similar to the entry rate prior to the 2020 regulation, according to Renato Gozzer, an expert on fisheries governance as Latin America fisheries director for the Honolulu-based NGO Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

Experts say this is a “serious” problem since ships are violating port regulations with the authorities’ consent.

In a Spanish-language article published in September, Mongabay Latam explained why these ships would have entered Peruvian ports and the arguments the Ministry of Production has used to authorize their entry.

In this second installment, we analyze the background of the Chinese vessels that used Peruvian ports in recent months and the companies to which they belong. We found that of the 56 vessels that used the port facilities between June and August of this year without the required additional satellite device, at least 10 belong to companies with a record of illegal fishing or forced labor.

Which ships are they, and what is their story?

Shady fishing practices

The first vessel of note among the ships with poor track records that entered Peru’s ports in recent months is the Jing Yuan 626. This vessel, which visited Callao Port Terminal near Peru’s capital city twice during the period analyzed, on June 15 and July 10, was caught fishing illegally in Argentine waters by the Argentine Coast Guard in 2018.

According to a statement from the Argentine Ministry of Security, when the Coast Guard arrived on the scene, the Jing Yuan 626 “immediately turned off all its lights and began to sail toward international waters, intending to escape.” The Coast Guard initiated a chase by issuing calls and sound signals for the vessel to stop, but it failed to do so. The patrol then began firing shots in an attempt to intimidate the foreign ship and prevent it from continuing navigation. However, none of this had any effect. Instead, during the operation, “four other vessels approached the area and made dangerous maneuvers and collision attempts to prevent the Jing Yuan 626 from being stopped,” the statement said, after which the Argentine justice system requested the international capture of the five Chinese ships. Another vessel belonging to the same company, the Jing Yuan 628, also entered Callao in recent months.

Argentina’s Coast Guard chases the Jing Yuan 626, a Chinese vessel suspected of illegal fishing, in 2018. Image courtesy of Naval Prefecture of Argentina.

So did the Run Da 607, which belongs to the company Zhoushan Zhongju Ocean. Peru captured its sister ship, the Run Da 608, in 2018 for fishing illegally in Peruvian waters.

On Aug. 7 and 15, 2023, the Lu Yan Yuan Yu 011 and the Chan Shun 6 arrived in Callao to make crew changes, as reported by the Ministry of Production. These vessels are owned by the company China Yantai Marine Fisheries, which is part of the China National Fisheries Corporation (CNFC), one of the world’s most notorious fishing companies, according to a 2022 paper in the journal Science Advances. In 2016, Argentina’s Coast Guard sank one of its vessels, the Lu Yuan Yu 10, which was fishing illegally in the area of Puerto Madryn, near a key protected area that is home to humpback whales.

Another ship that stands out on the list is the Hai Feng 718, whose company, Zhongyu Global Seafood Corp., currently has a vessel blacklisted for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The Hai Feng 718 is a refrigerated cargo ship or reefer that takes cargo from many vessels to port. This activity, known as transshipment, allows fishing vessels to empty their holds at sea and continue fishing without returning to land for long periods of time. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, transshipment is the greatest cause of IUU fishing because the catch of numerous vessels mixes in reefers’ holds, preventing illegal catches from being traced.

Hai Feng 718. Image courtesy of Marine Traffic.

Milko Schvartzman, coordinator of oceans and fisheries projects at the Argentine NGO Círculo de Políticas Ambientales (Environmental Policy Circle), is a leading expert on the behavior of the Chinese fleet in South America. He identified a series of transactions between the Hai Feng 718 and Chinese fishing vessels known to operate outside the law.

Schvartzman said a search of the Global Fishing Watch satellite-tracking platform for encounters the Hai Feng 718 had with other vessels at sea for transshipments showed that in April 2020, the reefer met with the Lu Qing Yuan Yu 206, a vessel with a history of forced labor and illegal fishing, including the capture of elephant seals off Patagonia in Argentina in 2021. This vessel “was denounced before the justice system and the Uruguayan Navy in 2017 for abuse of two Filipino crew members,” Schvartzman added. According to official documents he obtained from the port of Montevideo, three crew members died on the Lu Qing Yuan Yu 206 between 2017 and 2021.

The Hai Feng 718 appears to have assisted other notorious ships, too. In December 2019, the reefer received cargo from the Jia De 1, a Chinese vessel from which 28 African crew members had escaped slavery-like conditions at Uruguay’s main port of Montevideo in 2014. It also received cargo from the vessels Guo Ji 902 and Ou Ya 17, which port records show disembarked deceased crew members in Montevideo. And it received cargo from the vessel Wei Yu 18, which was the subject of a confidential report by the Washington, D.C.-based investigative NGO C4ADS that described the abusive labor conditions faced by its Indonesian crew from August 2018 to June 2022.

“Fishermen reported that they worked excessive hours, were physically and verbally abused, provided with dirty water for drinking and saltwater for bathing, and were not paid for all of their work on the vessel,” according to the C4ADS report, which Mongabay Latam reviewed. “Five of the fishermen fell ill during their time on the vessel. … One fisherman reportedly died from the illness on 26 September 2019 after being sick for several weeks. He was initially put in the freezer, but he was then buried at sea.” The report stated that “during the fishermen’s time on the vessel, the WEI YU 18 operated around South America, outside the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.”

Owned by the same company as the Wei Yu 18 is the Wei Yu 16, one of the vessels that entered a Peruvian port this year without the mandatory satellite device.

Also entering port in Peru was the Hong Run 6, a vessel whose crew members have filed complaints of forced labor, according to a Greenpeace report. So did the ships Ning Tai 65 and Ning Tai 57. Both belong to the company Zhoushan Ningtai Ocean Fish, which has also been accused of forced labor, specifically by a crew member aboard the Ning Tai 52.

A crew member cuts his mate’s hair on the foredeck of the Chinese ship Ming Xiang 868. Image courtesy of Eloy Aroni.

Experts denounce Peru’s lack of oversight

There are three main reasons Chinese-flagged vessels entered Peruvian ports this year. One of them — the most common — is known as forced arrival, a protocol used in emergencies such as health problems among the crew or serious technical failures of the vessel. All coastal countries are required to accept the entry of vessels facing emergencies, but experts say the rise in emergency arrivals has raised suspicions that some forced arrival claims are being falsely made, because no Chinese vessel made a forced arrival in Peruvian ports prior to the entry into force of the 2020 regulation on satellite tracking.

The Shun Ze 777 at Maggiolo Shipyard at the Port of Callao. Image courtesy of Willax TV.

The two other reasons cited by many of the 56 vessels that entered Peru in June and August were crew change and renewal of certificates. Experts say this is evidence of a serious oversight problem. All the ships that entered Peru for crew change or certificate renewals would have done so in violation of Peruvian regulations since none possessed the required satellite system. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Production said the regulation did not apply when a ship used Peru’s ports to change crew or renew certificates, a claim experts and lawyers consulted by Mongabay Latam refuted. “Those activities also fall under the category of obligatory use of the satellite,” Gozzer said.

For Alfonso Miranda, president of the Committee for the Sustainable Management of the Jumbo Flying Squid (CALAMASUR), a group of squid industry stakeholders in Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico, “the Ministry of Production has decided not to apply the decree, which in practice means leaving it not in force or repealing it de facto, although they have not even complied with the formality of doing so.”

One of the biggest sources of concern among experts is that some foreign ships that have arrived for supposed crew changes and document renewals have used domestic shipyards instead of international ones.

Piero Rojas, a lawyer and professor at the Universidad Científica del Sur in Lima who has been following this issue, said the national authorities are not properly carrying out the necessary inspections at port. By law, foreign vessels must be inspected following an international measure that seeks to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing in the South Pacific, he said. However, upon analyzing the reports filled out by inspectors, he discovered several instances in which items were left blank and officials failed to provide information.

“For example, we have found reports in which the essential part, which is about the findings, that is, what the inspector has seen on the vessel in situ, is empty,” Rojas said. “We have found around 20 empty reports, some more incomplete than others, and we have even had a case of two duplicate reports with different information.”

Vessels in China’s distant-water squid fleet are constructed of naval steel, generally 50–70 meters (164–229 feet) long, and equipped with incandescent lamps to lure squid to the surface using automatic “jigging” systems controlled by crew members on both sides of the boat. Image ©Simón Ager.

Rojas said that along with the international measure, the authorities must apply two other national inspection rules that empower inspectors to collect credible documentary evidence to support their claims. Such evidence can include copies of files, photos, recordings and more. However, none of the inspection reports had supporting documents, Rojas said.

For the lawyer, this is the biggest problem. “We don’t know if what the inspector declared is true,” he said. This is especially relevant given the evidence that “there have been vessels that entered for crew changes and ended up in shipyards.”

The implication is that the vessels may be collaborating with corrupt port officials so they can make use of Peruvian ports without complying with the satellite tracking laws that would reveal illicit fishing practices.

Vessels continue to turn off tracking at sea

Meanwhile, Eloy Aloni, a representative of the Lima-based consulting company Artisonal, said Chinese vessels continue to turn off their satellite systems near Peru’s territorial waters, a problem that was precisely the reason for the new rule requiring foreign vessels to carry an additional satellite system.

Among the vessels that visited Peruvian ports this year supposedly to change crew members or renew certificates, Artisonal’s experts detected two such cases.

The first occurred on May 8, when the Hong Run 55 turned off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking equipment for 36 hours right at the 200-mile limit of Peruvian waters, and then headed for the Port of Callao. The second involved the Ning Tai 65, which left Callao and, after crossing the 200-mile line, turned off its satellite system for four days.

“Why disappear and hide in the shadows?” Aloni said. “Undoubtedly, these shady behaviors reinforce the idea of possible cases of illegal fishing.”

Mongabay Latam sent questions to Peru’s Ministry of Production, but it did not respond as of this story’s original publication in Spanish in October.

Banner image: Numerous Chinese-flagged vessels have records of illegal fishing and forced labor. Image courtesy of Sea Shepherd.

This article was first published here in Spanish on Mongabay’s Latam website on Oct. 5, 2023.

Citations:

Belhabib, D., & Le Billon, P. (2022). Fish crimes in the global oceans. Science Advances, 8(12). doi:10.1126/sciadv.abj1927

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