Europeans Continue to Plunder African Waters

Greenpeace intercepts illegal Russian fishing fleet

On the bridge of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, it is not hard to see what the problem in West African waters is. On the radar, within a range of 20 nautical miles, I see the little blips of 9 super trawlers.

They are fishing the West African waters, but not in a common way: The capacity of these super trawlers is huge, with length beyond 100 metres, trawls several hundred meters long with opening up to 50 meters, and can catch up to 250 tons of fish per day, while local fishermen see their catches decrease. These huge fishing vessels stay at sea for weeks, freezing their catch and transfer the load to support vessels while at sea.

The enormous amount of fish that they extract from the sea has a devastating impact on the ecosystem in West African waters. The fish stocks are declining and local small scale fisherman are struggling to compete with these floating fish factories; there is simply not enough fish for everyone.

The 120 metres long “Oleg Naydenov” is one example for the enormous foreign fleet, which is overfishing West Africa’s waters. The fishing practices of these super trawlers are overexploiting and in some cases even illegal. Last week we encountered this giant Russian trawler at around 25 nautical miles towards Gambian waters, fishing illegally in waters under Senegalese jurisdiction with hidden name and call sign off – an illegal practice according to the country’s fishing law.

Things went quickly on this very day.

We spotted this strange behaving trawler: The markings were not visible – everything was hidden behind sheets. AIS was switched off. No signal at all. Our radar couldn’t find any information that could help to identify it. Since I am aware that Gambia has no private fishing agreements with the Russians, and having detected the presence of the Russian flag (which they could not hide) and the blue color (recognized for their vessels), we had the feeling, that there was something irregular. We decided to give it a deeper look and good luck was with us: the wind revealed the tarp that covered the call signal and allowed us to read and identify the vessel.

It was the almighty “Oleg Naydenov”, which has been in Senegalese waters since the controversial agreements of 2010. Not that they are only emptying our waters, but also they show a tremendous lack of respect for our fishing laws. In order to make this visible we marked the Russian vessel as one of the devastating foreign super trawlers, which are plundering West Africa’s waters, by painting “Pillage” (the French word for plunder) on the hull of the vessel. Furthermore we informed the Gambian authorities with success some hours later a patrol boat was sent to this area.

And exactly that’s the reason why we are here – to document and expose what’s going on in Senegalese waters, make it public and thereby bringing about a change for better. We are campaigning for the establishment of a sustainable, low impact fisheries policy that takes into account the needs and interests of small-scale fishermen and the local communities that depend on healthy oceans. Future leaders of Senegal have to break the Machiavellian momentum for the selling off of national marine heritage and stop the foreign fleets fishing away Africa’s future.


By: Raoul Monsembula