The recently reported case of the Der Horng 569 / Naham No. 4 proves that vessel identity can be usurped with relative ease.
A vessel flagged to Oman and purporting to be the Naham 4 was granted permission to dock in a South African port. Upon inspection on arrival it was found to have mis-declared the amount of fish in was carrying in its hold.
Further investigations by South African authorities uncovered the fact that the vessel had been engaged in IUU fishing activity. Its owners, a Taiwanese-owned (but Oman based) company called Al-Naham, are reportedly being prosecuted for their various breaches of South African law as well as the regional conservation rules of the Indian Ocean Trade Commission (IOTC).
Further investigations by NGOs FISH-I Africa and FIS also unearthed that the identity of the Naham 4 was in fact fake. The vessel may have been previously known as the Der Horng 569 and been flagged to Belize.The Taiwanese owners of the Der Horng 569 had reported it stolen in 2009.
It has been reported that upon changing hands the vessel may have been renamed Naham 4 – a name already in use by a different, smaller vessel registered with the IOTC. Apparently up to four vessels may have been operating under the name Naham 4, and that at least two identification numbers have been associated with that name (allegedly IMO 8650057, corresponding to the Naham 3 and IMO Number 7741550, corresponding to the actual Der Horng 569).
The previous owners of the Der Horng 569, a Taiwan-based company, are understood to have commenced legal proceedings against the people behind Al-Naham, with whom they are thought to have been business partners before the Der Horng 569 was declared stolen.
This case illustrates a number of important issues.
The effectiveness of NGO participation and integration in investigative and evidence-obtaining structures is evident here, for example.
Further, the Naham 4 saga perfectly showcases the multi-jurisdictional affair that IUU fishing often is. The cross-border nature of vessel ownership and fishing activities requires a regulatory approach that can only be successful if robust cooperation and effective coordination between different States and agencies. Unfortunately, this means that each regulatory chain is only as strong as its weakest link and that the failure of any one agency responsible for carrying out checks and verification lets down the entire system.
In this particular example Oman, the flag State of the rogue vessel, did not observe agreed international due diligence standards to carry out the pre-registration and historical checks that would have enabled it to know that the vessel had a false identity. By registering the vessel they showed considerable lassitude, giving the Naham 4 the ability to operate under the appearance of legality. For more information on due diligence standards for Flag States in the combat against IUU fishing, please see the 2013 FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance.
The notion that using a fake vessel identity would be more difficult if vessels owners had an obligation to acquire IMO numbers for their ships is well known. We have mentioned in past blog posts that this obligation is coming in, if rather late. It will not be in place in the IOTC area until 2016 at the earliest (see our earlier post “Towards compulsory IMO numbers” here).
Finally, it is worth highlighting that, whilst the pretend Naham 4 rusts awaiting auction in a South African port, its owners have absconded, leaving their South African agent behind with considerable debt. Unsurprisingly perhaps, sources appear to suggest that the pretend Nahab 4’s owners may be linked to previous illegal fishing operations. Vessels are the tools with which unscrupulous individuals engage in illegal fishing, environmental crimes and other types of maritime illegality. All cross-checking and black-listing by governments and public bodies must rightly identify vessels, but if IUU fishing vessels must come out of the shadows, their owners must be brought out with them.