By Tabora Bojang
An investigation carried by an international NGO working to protect and restore the world’s ocean through targeted policy campaigns, has released a report yesterday suggesting that commercial fishing vessels may be hiding their activities by switching off their tracking systems known as AIS to avoid detections and illegal activities.
Illegal fishing and other vessel activities have been a decade-long problem for communities and countries living along the coasts of Africa.
Speaking to the BBC focus on Africa programme, Anlaise Malacki, an analyst working for Oceana, the organization that carries the report said during their investigations they discovered vessels that appear to go dark by turning off their public tracking system in The Gambia and Senegal waters.
She said one of those vessels found is a Spanish commercial vessel that appears to go dark over twenty different times after leaving the port of Dakar, Senegal heading towards the southern Gambian waters.
“We track this vessel for over a year and on average, the amount of time between when it turned-off and on its tracking system was about nineteen days. For over two weeks of unaccounted activity between the Gambia and Senegal waters, we don’t know if these vessels were fishing or not, were they licensed to do so or not, since vessels going dark at sea may indicate that they are trying to actively avoid detections to hide suspicious or illegal activities,” she stated.
According to Malacki, over a year and half this “Spanish vessel appears to turn off its public tracker disappearing on the edge of Gambian waters; this left us with questions, we don’t know where this vessel went. The vessel is going invisible and dark as just when it reaches the Gambian waters leaving questions unanswered.”
Within nineteen days, she said they did not know where this vessel was but they think there is no question as to whether this vessel is following the rules because it has switched off its public tracking systems.
Malacki added that the report is set to go a long way in helping West African governments tackle illegal fishing in their waters
“We also recommend that governments like The Gambia should require vessels to have a public tracking system like AIS on vessels in their waters. This way the government and citizens can better monitor them in free platforms like global fishing watch,” she said.