Vanuatu authorities suspect marine smuggling ring
The authorities in Vanuatu suspect the seizure of banned marine species at Vanuatu's Bauerfield Airport indicates there is a largescale smuggling ring operating in the country.
The authorities in Vanuatu suspect the seizure of banned marine species at Vanuatu's Bauerfield Airport indicates there is a large-scale smuggling ring operating in the country.
The fisheries department found 30 kilograms of beche-de-mer, green-snail, triton and trochus shell concealed in false bottom bags and has linked them with Chinese nationals who have left the country.
(Left: dried beche-de-mer - sea cucumber)
The principal compliance officer for fisheries says all agencies need to be linked up so that the officers handling such cases can make arrests. But Felix Toa Ngwango told Annell Husband that under an impending review of the Fisheries Act his department is also hoping for stiffer penalties.
FELIX TOA NGWANGO: It's becoming a serious problem. And people go unpunished. There's no serious action being taken, or the actions are not done. For so long there's no mention of it. It's just a fine, an administrative process. But now as things get more and more... We're having pressure from every side for that step to be taken where we can authorise people to start making arrests.
ANNELL HUSBAND: Is 30 kilograms a big amount? Is that considered a big amount?
FTN: It is. Yeah, it's a big amount, especially to our research officers, because they're making a lot of effort in surveying these areas and also rehabilitating the reefs. But when they found out that people are going ahead and harvesting left, right and centre, to them it's like a slap on the face, and I can tell you it's really weird, because we're expecting those areas... We have protected areas around the country and the research officers, they spend a lot of time informing the villages and rural communities how to be able to take their resources, and especially the ones that are regulated by fisheries. So we can't allow it to go on like that unpunished, turning a blind eye on it. So we're hoping for heavy fines.
AH: And when you say 'heavy', what would that mean? What would a heavy fine by in your view?
FTN: At the moment we have a fine that... If it's a company that's involved then it's 1 million [vatu]. If it's an individual who's involved in harvesting these species then it's 200,000. But we're hoping to increase it from 1 million to 10 million or 20 million or more like that. Like I said, I won't confirm or give you an exact figure, but I'm saying that in the near future it's going to be increasing from that amount. If you compare it to a company that's going to be paying that amount they're making a lot more than that. They'll be getting more profit from what they've been selling.
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