At the end of a seemingly made-for-Hollywood drama, the Thunder, a ship considered the world’s most notorious illegal fish poacher, began to sink into the ocean a couple hundred miles off the coast of Nigeria. The demise of the ship came after the Bob Barker, one of the environmental activist group Sea Shepherd’s fleet, chased it for more than 10,000 miles across multiple oceans.
Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder, the equivalent of being on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Only four other ships in the world have been issued a Purple Notice. Included in its long list of alleged crimes is illegal fishing. Such illegal fishing is a worldwide business estimated at $10 billion in annual sales. New technology has only increased the illicit activity. While many governments know of the atrocious illegalities committed by the crew of the Thunder, no government wished to expend the millions of dollars needed to capture the ship. That is where Sea Shepherd, owner of the Bob Barker, came in. The group is mostly funded by celebrity donations and the Bob Barker is named after the animal-loving television host who donated $5 million to purchase the ship.
In chasing the Thunder, Sea Shepherd hoped to not only protect a quickly disappearing species of fish, but also to demonstrate that these illegal fisherman can be brought to justice. Although Sea Shepherd’s ships are unarmed, they do participate in a number of legally questionable tactics. They cut fishing nets, steal buoys, block fisherman and sometimes ram whaling vessels. Both Sea Shepherd and some Interpol officials claim that such tactics are necessary.
The Bob Barker spotted the Thunder in Antarctica after only two days at sea. Once the Thunder spotted the Bob Barker, it took off, but the Bob Barker remained in hot pursuit. The Bob Barker’s partner, the Sam Simon, often refueled and gathered supplies while the Bob Barker remained on the tail of the Thunder. This enabled the Thunder to refuel several times while the Thunder had no chance to refuel. Thus it became a battle of who had more fuel and more will.
After several plays made by both the Thunder and Bob Barker in an effort to thwart each other, and after two months into the chase, it appeared one side was ready to give in. Suddenly, the Thunder radioed the Bob Barker requesting assistance. The Thunder’s captain stated it was sinking and needed help. While the Bob Barker’s crew noticed commotion on the Thunder, there was no evidence of a collision. While the Thunder’s crew boarded inflatable boats and headed toward the Bob Barker and Sam Simon, where they climbed aboard, members of the crew from the Bob Barker climbed aboard the Thunder in hopes of gathering evidence of illegal fishing before the boat sank. The crew became suspicious of the sinking, and evidence on the ship led officials to believe the boat was intentionally scuttled in hopes of destroying evidence that would assist in prosecuting the crew.
Once the Thunder’s crew was aboard the Sam Simon, Sea Shepherd contacted the nearest port officials, and upon arrival, the Thunder’s senior crew members were arrested. In July, several officers were charged with a litany of counts, including negligence, forgery and pollution. Several other governments are considering charging the Thunder’s owners for illegal fishing, money laundering and tax evasion.
The amazing chase and the sinking of the Thunder is a major victory for Sea Shepherd and environmentalists everywhere. Even though Sea Shepherd’s tactics may be legally questionable, compared to the crimes committed by the Thunder’s crew, it is very likely that governmental agencies will look the other way.