NOAA takes over vessel seized for high seas driftnetting

Lisa Demer
Crew members from the seized high seas drift netter Bangun Perkassa arrive Oct. 3, 2011, in Dutch Harbor. JIM PAULIN / The Associated Press

An illegal high seas drift net fishing boat that a U.S. senator called a "pirate" ship has been turned over to a federal law enforcement office, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Coast Guard seized the ship Sept. 15 about 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak with more than 10 miles of illegal driftnets on board.

Authorities initially said it was rat infested but a contractor hired to eradicate the rodents said earlier this month that there weren't that many aboard. State law forbids ships with rats to enter Alaska waters.

The rats were trapped or poisoned and late last week the 140-foot Bangun Perkasa was cleared to come to port in Dutch Harbor, NOAA said Sunday in a written statement. The vessel is considered stateless, according to the Coast Guard and NOAA.

Saturday evening, shortly after the Bangun Perkasa docked in Dutch Harbor, the Coast Guard transferred possession to NOAA's law enforcement office.

The office will have the ship surveyed to determine its value as well as the value of the 30 tons of squid and 30 shark carcasses in its holds, NOAA said.

NOAA is working with the U.S. attorney's office in Anchorage to seek forfeiture of the vessel and its catch. Under federal law, the owner of the vessel is given a reasonable time to come forward and claim it. If no one steps up as owner, NOAA will figure out the best way to dispose of the vessel, the agency said.

"This legal process needs to run its course before any decision regarding disposition of the vessel or catch can be made," the NOAA statement said.

The office also is investigating suspected illegal fishing activities by this and any related vessels, as well as those behind the activity.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich called for what he termed the "pirate fishing vessel" to be sunk because of the threat from rats, which he doubted could be completely eradicated.

When the vessel was seized, it had more than 10 miles of driftnet on board and was dragging more than two miles of driftnet, a practice universally condemned for indiscriminately killing massive amounts of fish and marine life, according to NOAA. The United Nations has banned high seas driftnetting.

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