After three weeks in quarantine aboard their vessel, twenty-eight Chinese fishermen caught poaching at Helen Reef were escorted out of Palau’s waters by Marine Law Enforcement officers, once their vessel was stripped to bare necessities.
According to Chief of Staff Earnest Ongidobel of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the Chinese vessel was stripped of its six small boats, engines, and fishing gear prior to its departure, and left with only enough fuel and food supplies for its trip home.
The foreign fishing vessel was escorted on Thursday morning a little after 11am by Marine Law’s smaller speedboats. Once it had exited through the West Passage, the fishermen were told to dump their illegal catch, 500 pounds of sea cucumber, into the ocean. The illegal catch had allegedly already been rotting on board.
The vessel was escorted outside of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and was left somewhere in the waters between the Philippines and Taiwan.
In addition to the gear, Marine Law officers seized $20 thousand in US currency, along with tobacco and liquor, which had reportedly been offered to the PAN Rangers in Hatohobei State as a bribe.
The Chinese poachers were offered a settlement agreement by the Office of the Attorney General, which was signed by the captain of the vessel, rather than facing charges. The decision to not charge the Chinese nationals was made mainly in response to concerns over the risks of COVID transmission and the high costs of detaining the nationals for a longer period of time.
Director Victor Remengesau of the Bureau of Maritime Security & Fish and Wildlife Protection, who said that Marine Law officers had determined possible charges and violations which were eventually dropped in favor of the settlement, stressed that the detainment and seizure of gear and goods will still send a message to poachers in Palau’s territorial waters. “The message we want to be clear on is this: we will catch [those who violate our laws], and in all likelihood, you will be leaving Palau with far less than what you came with,” Director Remengesau said.
Before the poachers were allowed to leave, Marine Law officers took photographs of the twenty-eight Chinese nationals for documentation.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had allegedly tried to contact the Chinese Government as well as the company which owned the vessel regarding the detainment, but had received no response from either.
The poachers had initially been intercepted and arrested by the Remeliik II on December 10, after having harvested their catch from Helen Reef, a protected area.
Director Remengesau said that the Remeliik II will be undertaking further patrols in the near future. However, he said that the crew may not be conducting ship boardings and may rely more on aerial surveillance as the risk of COVID transmission remains a threat.

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