Begich says sink seized fishing vessel

'OPEN FIRE': Action would send a message, Alaska senator says.

Associated PressOctober 4, 2011 

JUNEAU -- U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Tuesday called on the Coast Guard to sink a stateless, rat-infested vessel accused of illegal fishing.

In a letter to the Coast Guard's commandant, Begich said sinking the Bangun Perkasa would send a clear signal that "pirate" fishing is unacceptable to the United States, and won't be tolerated.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman in Alaska, Sara Francis, said a decision about what to do with the vessel would be made by NOAA Fisheries. A spokeswoman for that agency, Julie Speegle, said the options for how best to deal with the vessel likely wouldn't be discussed until it is brought to shore and a survey -- evaluating such things as whether the ship is seaworthy or of any value -- has been completed.

The Coast Guard seized the vessel Sept. 7, about 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, after receiving a report that the vessel was fishing illegally with a drift net. The crew initially claimed the ship was from Indonesia, but Francis said Indonesian officials denied that.

Authorities reported finding 30 tons of squid and 30 shark carcasses on board. They also found evidence of rats. State law prevents ships with rats from entering Alaska waters. The vessel was brought to three miles off Dutch Harbor Sunday.

On Monday, the 22 crew members were removed and flown to Anchorage, where federal authorities planned to question them. Francis said rat eradication efforts have since gotten under way. Plans call for using traps and poison.

Begich, in his letter, said he's concerned the eradication efforts won't be totally effective. He outlined a number of steps that should be taken before "scuttling" the vessel, including providing public notice to the ship's owner to reclaim it and pay any fines and expenses associated with its seizure.

He said fuel and other contaminants should be removed, along with as many rats as possible, and illegal driftnets and other debris should go down with the ship.

"The hulk should be towed far offshore, well beyond the rats' ability to swim, and then the Coast Guard should open fire," the Democrat wrote.

Sinking the boat would keep "the rust bucket from ending up back on the market where it most likely will fall into the hands of some other pirate," Begich said.

Using it for "gunnery practice" would also demonstrate the firepower of the Coast Guard's National Security cutters, he said.

Francis said that as far as she knows, the catch remained on the vessel. She said normally, when the Coast Guard seizes a vessel, the catch and ship are turned over to NOAA Fisheries.

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