Greenpeace applauded the decision of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea dismissing the case brought by Belize in defence of the notorious pirate fishing vessel, the Grand Prince. The Grand Prince was chased by Greenpeace in the Southern ocean around Antarctica last year [1] and caught fishing illegally for Patagonian toothfish by French authorities.

This case was first heard before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on 4 April. The Grand Prince, owned by the Spanish company Noycan, but registered to flag of convenience country Belize, was caught fishing illegally for the threatened Patagonian toothfish (called Chilean seabass in US markets) on December 2000. The Grand Prince was escorted to Réunion, where a French court set a bond of over 1,7 million Euros for the release of the vessel. Belize is arguing for the bond to be lowered to 206,149 Euros.

Flag of convenience fishing is rife in the Southern ocean around Antarctica. Fishing companies buy flags from countries such as Belize, Panama, Seychelles and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to avoid international fishing rules and any control of their activities by their home countries. France has caught and arrested almost 20 vessels in the waters surrounding its sub-Antarctic territories, many of which flew flags of convenience. World-wide, Belize is the top flag of convenience fishing country with over four hundred industrial-scale fishing vessels flying its flag.

The tribunal questioned apparent irregularities in the Belize registry of this vessel. In Greenpeace's view the concerns raised by the tribunal and, in particular, those raised in the opinion of Judge Anderson, are typical of the Flag of Convenience system as a whole. In its decision, the tribunal held that "in the view of the tribunal, the assertion that the vessel is 'still considered as registered in Belize' contains an element of fiction, and does not provide sufficient basis for holding that Belize was the flag State of the vessel for the purposes of making an application under article 292 of the convention [paragraph 85].

"The truth is that the entire Flag of Convenience system contains an element of fiction, and this decision is an important step in closing the loophole," said Greenpeace International lawyer Duncan Currie.

The toothfish population has been brought to the brink of collapse in the six years since pirate longliners began fishing for the prized fish. In addition, an estimated 330,000 seabirds, including endangered species of albatross, were caught and killed as bycatch over the past four years by pirate fishing vessels.

"Belize has done nothing to stop this vessel or any other vessel flying its flag from breaking international fisheries rules and regulations with impunity," said Matthew Gianni, Ocean Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace International. "The reality is that Belize has no connection to this vessel whatsoever, other than having sold it a cheap flag. This vessel is clearly a Spanish vessel, represented by Spanish lawyers bringing in experts from northern Spain as witnesses. The tribunal appears to have recognised what we view as obvious, that the Belize 'presence' at the tribunal is a charade. Ultimately the tribunal needs to take strong action against Belize and other flag of convenience countries for routinely flouting international fisheries conservation laws."

The Secretary General of the United Nations has called the prevalence of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing "one of the most severe problems currently affecting world fisheries." The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions calling on countries to exercise control over the activities of fishing vessels flying their flag. In March of this year, 114 nations agreed to an International Plan of Action of Action to combat Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing. Among other things, they stressed the need to impose sanctions of sufficient severity to deter pirate fishing vessels from illegal fishing and deprive them of the benefits of their fishing. [2]

Matthew Gianni, Greenpeace International, mobile +31 6 29 00 11 35
Gina Sanchez, Greenpeace International Press Desk, +31 6 270 00 064


[1] The Greenpeace vessel MV Arctic Sunrise found the Grand Prince inside the Kerguelen EEZ on 4 March 2000. It photographed the vessel from the Greenpeace helicopter on 4/3/00. Upon sighting Greenpeace, the Grand Prince immediately changed course, increased its speed and fled. Greenpeace pursued it to the limits of the area managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Grand Prince had sailed from notorious toothfish pirate port of Mauritius on 10 February 2000 where it had landed a catch of Patagonian toothfish. On the 22 April 2000, it returned to Mauritius where it landed 150 tonnes of toothfish.

[2] Paragraph 21 of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's International Plan of Action to deter, prevent and eliminate IUU fishing: "States should ensure that sanctions for IUU fishing by vessels and, to the greatest extent possible, nationals under its jurisdiction are of sufficient severity to effectively prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing and to deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from such fishing."