Sea Shepherd Ship Seized by the Ecuadorian Navy

PUERTO AYORA, Galapagos, Ecuador, August 27, 2001 (ENS) - The Ocean Warrior, flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was seized today by the Ecuadorian Navy in the Galapagos Islands.

There are two Navy vessels on scene, one armed with Exocet ship destroying missiles. Two Navy guards have been placed on board the Ocean Warrior. The Ocean Warrior has not been allowed to refuel. The Ecuadorian Navy is preventing anyone from getting on or off the ship.

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The Ocean Warrior, flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (Photos courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
"They are basically saying 'your papers are not in order,'" said Ocean Warrior Captain Paul Watson, founder of the California based marine conservation organization.

"On Friday, they told us we would have to leave in 48 hours. Over the weekend, they put the vessel and our international crew under virtual house arrest. The mayor of Puerto Ayora, the people of the city and the National Park Service, have expressed their full support for Sea Shepherd."

The largest settlement in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora is the port town on Isla Santa Cruz. Most yachts offering cruises of the Galapagos hail from Puerto Ayora, which is also home to the National Park Services and the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Last November, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society signed a joint agreement with the Galapagos National Park to defend the Galapagos Marine Reserve from poaching.

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Galapagos school children greet the Sirenian earlier this year. (Photos courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
Sea Shepherd's patrol vessel Sirenian collected donations of cash and equipment en route from the United States to Ecuador to help compensate the park for an estimated US$30,000 in computer and communications gear lost when fishermen ransacked park offices demanding a higher fishing quota.

Ocean Warrior is now in the Galapagos to re-supply the Society’s patrol vessel Sirenian, which has been assisting the National Park Service in policing the Galapagos Marine Reserve since last March. In that time, Sirenian has seized seven commercial vessels caught in the marine reserve.

Sea Shepherd has been outspoken in its criticism of the close ties of the Ecuadorian Navy and Merchant Marine to Ecuador’s powerful commercial fishing sector. Sea Shepherd personnel have been openly critical of the Ecuadorian practice of releasing vessels apprehended fishing illegally in the Marine Reserve without charge or fine.

Sean O'Hearn Gimenez, marine conservation officer for Sea Shepherd International, has been aboard the Sirenian in the Galapagos since March.

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Sean O'Hearn Gimenez aboard the Sirenian examines a shark that has been finned. Shark fins supply the Asian foods market for shark fin soup.
On May 30, he reported that 18 boats fishing illegally had been captured within the Galapagos Marine Reserve since January 1, 2001. But many have been released, says O'Hearn. "The Sirenian has captured four boats in less then three weeks. Three of them have been released and the remaining one is about to be released after having been caught red-handed illegally shark finning within the Galapagos Marine Reserve."

O'Hearn says the ships and their illegal cargoes of shark fins are being released because of economics. "There are huge economic interests involved whom are influencing people from judges, port captains, admirals and even the minister of the environment, who recently resigned," he says.

The Galapagos consists of 13 major islands, 17 smaller islands and more than 40 rocks covering an area of 3,100 square miles. Ninety percent of the land surface and the entire ocean area are incorporated into the Galapagos National Park.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which covers a larger area surrounding the island group, is scheduled to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the World Heritage Committee's upcoming meeting later this year.