PHUKET -A black-listed fishing vessel the 625-ton Taisan has broken free of Thai authorities off the Thai resort island of Phuket and sailed into international waters.
Thai officials say the rusting and decrepit Taisan has left behind unpaid bills of $US66,000 ($94,000) and has on board millions of dollars worth of illegally caught fish.
Thai authorities met on Wednesday to decide whether to send a navy ship in pursuit.
“We blinked and the ship was gone,” Charoen Chamniklang, chief of the Royal Thai Customs and investigation suppression bureau told Phuketwan news.
In January the New Zealand navy said the ship, then called the Kunlun, used “evasive tactics” to thwart boarding attempts in Antarctic waters.
In February, crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s environmental observation ship Sam Simon said they spotted the ship using banned gill nets to haul in Artic toothfish in a protected area of the Antarctic Ocean about 2,400 kilometres south-west of Australia.
Weighing up to 120 kilograms, toothfish can sell for thousands of dollars.
The crew of the Sam Simon pursued the ship for six days before the allegedly rogue vessel peeled off and sailed to Australia’s Cocos islands.
Australian Customs officials boarded the ship there and found a large cargo of frozen fish but said they could not lay charges as the crew and captain were on the high seas.
The ship then sailed to Phuket, arriving on March 6, where it was detained by authorities, apparently acting on a complaint from Australia.
The fish was hauled by truck to a deep sea port and put in frozen storage.
But Thai officials are believed to have allowed the cargo to be returned to the ship recently after storage fees were paid.
Since March most of the 30 people who were initially on board are believed to have left Thailand as Thai authorities continued to refuse permission for the ship to leave Phuket waters the Phuket Gazette Reported.
Thai officials were advised that Interpol was seeking information about the owners of the ship who had allegedly profited from illegal fishing.
As few as three crew members could now be on board, Thai officials believe.
Over 42 years the ship had also been called the Chang Bai, the Hongshui, the Corvus, the Galaxy, Red Moon and the Dorita under flags of Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Tanzania, North Korea, Panama and Sierra Leone, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is best known as the subject of the reality television show Whale Wars which documented its efforts to thwart Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean.
Fishing in the Antarctic is regulated by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international fisheries management body that comprises representatives from 24 nations and the European Union.
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