Rogue drift-net fishing vessel seized in North Pacific

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A rogue fishing vessel found using outlawed drift nets in the North Pacific was seized with about 30 dead sharks, 30 tons of illegally caught squid and an infestation of rats aboard, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Friday.

The boat was being escorted to the Alaskan port of Dutch Harbor, where its 22 crew members will be detained by U.S. customs officials, Coast Guard officials said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will take over the vessel and prosecution of the case.

High-seas drift-net fishing, considered dangerous to fish stocks, marine mammals, sea turtles and other ocean life, was banned by international law in 1991.

The vast nets of fine-filament mesh, sometimes left abandoned in the ocean, have been referred to as floating "walls of death" for their indiscriminate entanglements of sea life.

"The nets that they use are miles long and just catch everything in their path," said Sara Francis, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Alaska.

Despite the ban and widespread condemnation of high-seas drift-net fishing, the Coast Guard and its counterparts in other nations still regularly find vessels doing engaged in the practice in international waters, Francis said.

Many offenders in recent years have been Chinese fishing crews, she said.

In this case, the offending vessel was not registered in any nation, an unusual situation, Francis said.

The crew claimed the ship, called the Bangun Parkasa, was Indonesian. But Coast Guard inquiries found no such registration with the Indonesian government, she said.

Pursuit of the vessel began three weeks ago when Japanese officials, patrolling by air, spotted it 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska, the Coast Guard said.

U.S. authorities were notified and a Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to the scene.

Coast Guard officials boarded the vessel on September 9 and began escorting it to port six days later, Francis said.

The ship could reach the Dutch Harbor area as early as Saturday, she said, but will be isolated for about a week while the rat infestation found aboard is eradicated.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)

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