Syndicate uses ‘mother ship’ and disguised fishing boats to slip through dragnet

Like the real deal: Illegal Vietnamese fishing boats, like these detained off the coast of Sabah, are often made to look like local fishing vessels.

KOTA TINGGI: The syndicate behind the frequent encroachment into local waters by Vietnamese fishermen has managed to stay one step ahead of enforcement agencies, avoiding detection and arrest.

It is believed there are hundreds of fishing vessels illegally entering Malaysian waters from Tok Bali in Kelantan to Desaru in Johor.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Tanjung Sedili district maritime director Kapt Amran Daud said the unusual thing about this syndicate was their use of a “mother ship”.

The Star reported yesterday that these “sea raiders” encroached into the waters off Sedili, primarily targeting sea cucumbers, which fetch them a good sum in the China market. Even locally, sea cucumbers fetch more than RM1,000 a kilo.

They use pukat harimau (trawler nets), which scoop up huge amounts of an area’s fish stock and cause massive ecological damage, especially to the sea bed and corals.

Kapt Amran said it would take at least two months for boats to travel from Vietnam to Johor, where the “mother ship” plays a vital role.

“It supplies these boats with diesel and food as well as clean water. It also stores their catch,” he added.

The MMEA did not rule out the possibility that locals could be part of the syndicate, as they seem to know Malaysian waters well.

Kapt Amran said the Vietnamese used what looked like local boats, with fake registration numbers.

“They also fly the Malaysian flag to fool local enforcement agencies,” he added.

He said that in the past two-and-a-half years, MMEA Tanjung Sedili detained 144 Vietnamese fishermen for encroaching into Malaysian waters and illegal fishing activities.

He said that between 2015 and April, his team detained 11 Vietnamese fishing boats, adding that there could be hundreds of other boats in local waters.

“One vessel can catch at least 30 tonnes of our marine resources, and will normally move in a group of five to 12 boats and scatter once detected,”he said.

MMEA and other agencies such as the navy, marine police and Fisheries Department are working to thwart the syndicate.

Kapt Amran said the agency was also using locals fishermen as informants to track down the Vietnamese trawlers, including the “mother ship”.

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