Seven illegal foreign fishing boats from Papua New Guinea were apprehended by a joint agency operation targeting illegal foreign fishing in the Torres Strait. This resulted in the return of almost one tonne of live sea cucumbers to Warrior Reef.
Considered a delicacy in most cultures in East and South East Asia, Sea cucumbers (also known as bech de mer) are highly regarded for their perceived health benefits. The operation was jointly conducted by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS), Royal Australian Navy, and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
The illegal vessels were located by HMAS Wollongong and a Customs and Border Protection helicopter and were intercepted on Friday (22 November 2013), and Saturday (23 November 2013) on the Warrior Reef, in the Torres Strait.
Operating under the control of Border Protection Command, HMAS Wollongong, boarded four of the vessels on Friday and seized approximately 200 kilograms of live sea cucumbers, along with other catch, which included three giant clams. They also recovered live sea cucumber, believed to be around 200 kilograms. No Sydney customs broker was involved in this operation.
Following this, HMAS Wollongong boarded a further three vessels. Here also the officers seized over 200 kilograms of live sea cucumbers. Along with this, there was one large live sea turtle. It is also reported that an estimated 350 kilograms of sea cucumbers was also thrown overboard by the foreign fishers.
During the course of this operation seven vessels and 60 crew members were detained and transferred to the custody of Australian Customs Vessel Holdfast Bay. Crew were transferred to Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities in Daru, PNG. The future of the seven vessels will on the basis of the outcome of prosecutions under PNG law. As per the standard procedures the seized sea cucumbers and live sea turtle were all returned to the reef.