Air Force swoops on pirate fishing boat

A Micronesian patrol boat (foreground) sends a boarding crew to the Chinese fishing boat. Picture / RNZAF

A New Zealand Air Force crew has helped net a group of illegal fishermen in an operation in which shots were fired across the fishing boat's bow in Micronesian waters.

The 12-member Orion crew were last week patrolling the area when officers from the Micronesian Maritime Authority were forced to chase the unlicensed Chinese longliner and fire warning shots at it.

As part of Operation Island Chief, the crew spent five days helping the authority track down illegal fishing boats in the northern Pacific region - one of the world's best fishing grounds for shark fins and tuna.

The crew's tactical co-ordinator, Flight Lieutenant Paul Cameron, said they called in patrol boats after establishing that the vessel was unlicensed - "and that's when it tried to get away. Its crew ignored all of the warning signs until shots were fired across its bow.

"That incident really showed us that fishing in these waters is big business. After all, one yellowfin tuna can fetch up to US$1000 ($1530) on the Asian market."

As well as the runaway vessel, whose owner is facing an obstruction of justice charge, the crew also caught three Japanese vessels operating outside their commercial fishing licence.

Their actions, for either misreporting their catch or turning off their location monitors, resulted in fines totalling US$310,000 ($474,200).

Each year commercial fishing brings in more than $200 million to the Micronesian economy, but just as much is believed to be lost to the black market.