A hearing in a congressional subcommitee this week took the first steps in an effort to better deal with pirate fishing vessels — like the 140-foot Bangun Perkasa still sitting in Dutch Harbor.
The Coast Guard seized the vessel last year 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak for illegal driftnet fishing on the high seas. The boat was towed to Dutch Harbor, where its crew was deported to their countries of record. The Coast Guard also seized 10 miles of illegal driftnet gear and many tons of illegally caught squid and shark.
The boat has proved a burden in more ways than one while sitting idly in the busy port. More than $200,000 was spent on ridding the vessel of rats. And now there's the question of what to do with the remains — scrap it, auction it, let it sit — and how much that will cost the Coast Guard or NOAA as they seek to rid themselves of the boat in an environmentally conscientious and fiscally appropriate way?
Authorities fear that selling such vessels could put them back into the hands of pirate organizations.
Alaska's congressmen are seeking to speed this process by giving the overseeing organizations like the Coast Guard the option of sinking such vessels after ridding them of onboard pollutants and potential debris.
Representative Don Young's Pirate Vessel Disposal Act was one of three House Resolutions being considered in Tuesday's Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee hearing.
Press Secretary Luke Miller in Young's office said the hearing went well, opening positive dialogue on the issues of pirate fishing and vessels on the high seas.
"This is the first step in the process," Miller said. "The next step will most likely be a markup, open the bill up to amendments, then they'll vote on it as a committee."
If the bill passes out of this subcommittee it will go to the House floor.
Senator Mark Begich was a supporter of sinking the Bangun Perkasa when it was initially discovered.
"Pirate fishermen use illegal fishing techniques that could devastate Alaska fisheries," said Begich in a release. "We will not allow them to destroy the livelihoods of honest hard-working fishermen. We want pirate fishermen to know that, if they fish illegally, their boat will be blown up, used for law enforcement, or turned into scrap metal."
The bill would establish four routes to vessel disposal:
1. Sinking by the Coast Guard through live-fire exercises
2. Transfer to developing countries for use in patrol and enforcement duties
3. Transfer to government or non-profit organizations for use in education, training, or research
4. Scrapping or recycling all applicable materials
Another important part of the bill allows the Coast Guard and NOAA to use existing environmental-protection funds to pay for the cost of decontaminating a vessel.
According to recent press releases, Young and Begich seek to send a strong message to pirate-fishing operations that the U.S. is prepared to expedite their dealings with seized vessels and gear.
For boats such as the Bangun Perkasa to be sunk by live-fire, according to the bill, they must be at least 50 miles offshore and in waters at least one mile deep.
This article was originally published by The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission.