The Vietnamese ‘blue boats’ sneaking into the Central and South Pacific

Categories Op-Eds: Tuna newsbeat insightsPosted on

Republished from Franciso Blaha’s blog, 16 January 2017

by Francisco Blaha


Lots of info in the news on the so-called “Blue Boats” invasion, since they have been found in have been found in Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and as far south as Australia and New Caledonia. And is true, most come from Vietnam… but then that is part of the problem.

Most of the boats apprehended have Vietnamese citizens on board and many come from Vietnamese ports but Vu Duyen Hai the head of Vietnamese delegation to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which met in Nadi recently, denies Vietnam is responsible.

“Some other countries have informed us that Vietnamese boats also come to other countries like Palau or Micronesia to poach but Vietnam is not so sure that these are Vietnamese vessels.”

He accepted that some fishing vessels stray outside Vietnam’s 200-miles Exclusive Economic Zone but he said this is because they “follow the fish” and most do not have equipment to tell them if they mistakenly enter other countries’ EEZ.

He said the Vietnamese government has tried to advise them not to go to other countries’ EEZ to poach because that would be illegal fishing, and that Vietnamese fisheries authorities also check local fishing vessels but “sometimes, fishing vessels go out, switch off their communication equipment and authorities could not locate them and this becomes a problem and now they are also against this and it has very heavy penalties including removal of licenses for ever”

And that is perhaps the most telling issue, obviously if these guys head off from Vietnam into a REALLY long trip for a long time, is not because hey are interested in keeping their local fishing license impeccable!

They make it all the way into these countries knowing that coming back may not be an option, but still good business.

FSM authorities assessed that the price for one of the small boats which can handle 10 to 13 crew members is about 300 million Vietnamese Dong, approximately $12,000. The small boats carry 25,000 liters of fuel when they leave port in Vietnam. They return to port when the fuel gets down to 10 or 15 thousand liters of fuel.

The big blue boats which can carry 16 to 17 crew members cost around 600,000,000 Dong, approximately $24,000. The bigger boats carry approximately 35,000 liters of fuel and return to port when the fuel has reached 15,000 liters.

The price for diesel fuel in Vietnam has only changed negligibly in the last few months. On September 5, the price per liter was 50 cents USD. At that price, it costs about $12,500 to fuel an extended journey on one of the bigger boats. The journeys are intended to last two to three months and they bring enough food for that period of time.

The other option, and one does not have to be a fisheries mastermind, is to asume that there must be a logistic arrangement behind them, with carriers to pick up catch and provide fuel, otherwise they will run out of fuel ( and storage space even if they dry all the fish on board. So they must have a fleet of carriers accompanying the foray, ergo radio and GPS on board are required.

In any case, the vessels are very basic so their cost is not a disincentive in the case of being detained, add to that the massive overcapacity and subsidies that the Vietnamese government provides its fleet, and the present scenario is not surprising.

The previous and ongoing Vietnamese fisheries subsidies policies on fuel and vessels renewal, upgrading, infrastructure etc, offsets any damages from loosing the boat if they are captured. Moreover, in relation to fisheries management, open access to fisheries is the main problem, and is in fact a lack of management leading to overfishing and over-capacity. Overexploited resources and over-capacity, in turn, lead to boats ready to head off into far and more productive shores, even if it is illegal

Official figures put the Vietnamese offshore fleet at approximately 20000 vessels, almost all of them made of wood. Most vessels are equipped with second-hand truck engines. Among these, 6675 vessels are fitted with engines of 90 hp or above, but who really know what the reality is.

… read the rest of the blog here.