As a result of data provided by Oceana, the Spanish government sanctioned two Spanish fishing vessels, Releixo and Egaluze, with a fine of 20.000 euros for turning off their automatic identification systems (AIS) on several occasions without cause, which is illegal for Spanish fishing vessels. During the 4-year period between 2012 and 2016, the two vessels appeared to disable their AIS devices over 1000 hours.
Oceana’s Senior Policy Advisor, Illegal Fishing and Transparency, Ignacio Fresco Vanzini, says that “this exemplary sanction of 20.000 euros to punish two fishing vessels for switching off their automatic identification system (AIS) is an important step towards having more transparency in the fisheries sector. With this action, the Spanish administration is sending a clear message to the fishing industry: even if monitoring of fishing is based on vessel monitoring systems, it is not acceptable to navigate without being visible to other vessels or control authorities, and risk putting fishers’ lives in danger. We hope these sanctions become the norm and other EU member states feel compelled to act.”
The sanctions are a direct result of Oceana’s analysis alerting the Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping that these vessels were navigating with their AIS devices apparently turned off. The complaint and information shared by Oceana led to an investigation and the initiation of two administrative sanctioning procedures against both vessels. Oceana analysed Global Fishing Watch* data to identify vessels with apparent gaps** in their AIS transmissions. The Global Fishing Watch map helps advance ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea, empowering anyone to view or download data and investigate global fishing activity in near real-time for free.
All fishing vessels above 15 metres flagged to EU countries must be equipped with an AIS device that transmits the location, direction, and speed of a vessel at sea. An AIS device, which shares position data with nearby ships, is important to prevent vessel collisions and promote transparency of fishing operations. Navigating without AIS is considered an infringement of EU and Spanish laws.
Vessels can legitimately switch off AIS in exceptional situations and following certain rules, for instance when navigating in areas where piracy could be a problem. However, the two sanctioned vessels had repeatedly turned off their AIS without a legitimate reason, for a total period of more than 1.000 hours.
Turning off AIS without legitimate security concerns is an illegal practice, but few EU states have sanctioned fishing vessels for it. Oceana calls on EU Member States to enforce existing rules, ensure the safety of fishers on board and avoid collisions at sea. Turning off AIS violates EU fisheries law and prevents the detection of and sanctioning for potential illegal fishing. The practice of turning AIS off should therefore not only be a maritime safety offense, but also sanctioned by fisheries authorities.
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