FU YUAN YU, NI HAO!
It was just past midnight on the 7th of March 2015, and there was a huge audience gathering to witness the deployment of the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) (for the first time for most of us). The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) team was ready to put this intelligent robot into the deep ocean to collect important information from the seafloor, then a bright white light and a blinking red light caught the eyes of the scientists.
They contacted the bridge and were told that there is a Chinese vessel “Fu Yuan Yu” (福远渔) in the vicinity. The Chinese vessel did not respond to the bridge’s repeated hailing. So, we, the Singaporeans, were activated to communicate with the Chinese in Mandarin.
“Hello, Fu Yuan Yu. We are an American research vessel. We are of no harm. We would like to deploy our research equipment and just want to know if you have any fishing gears in the waters, so that we do not damage your and our equipment. Please reply. Thank you.”
There was no response, despite multiple attempts to reach them.
We did an internet search on “Fu Yuan Yu” and found that the Fujian-based company Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd. has a fleet of 129 vessels with the same name (www.ptmarine.com/fishing-operations/our-vessels). “Fu Yuan Yu” can be literally translated as “Fujian long-distance fishermen”.
According to various sources, several of their vessels have been caught for illegal fishing by countries such as Argentina (en.mercopress.com/2013/07/24/argentina-
confirms-one-million-dollars-fines-on-each-of-four-vessels-caught-illegally-fishing), Fiji (www.paclii.org/journals/fJSPL/vol10/5.shtml) and Indonesia (johnib.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/indonesias-maritime-affairs-and-fisheries-minister-orders-a-crackdown-on-illegal-chinese-fishing/). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) raised concern about “Fu Yuan Yu” conducting illegal fishing on bluefin tuna. (http://econews.com.au/uncategorized/wwf-raises-concern-about-illegal-tuna-fishing/).
We were later informed that the name of the vessel is “Fu Yuan Yu 022”.
It is a longliner http://www.wcpfc.int/node/18193and appears to fish frequently in the North Pacific Ocean where we conduct our surveys.
After assessing the risk of the AUV getting caught in their fishing gears, we decided to abort the operation and amended our survey programme for the entire day. Luckily, we have enough buffer time to complete the tasks in time.
That is the fun of deep sea research. You never know what people (or animals) you are going to meet in the vast oceans! A little of excitement before we end our shift!
Written by: Chee Kong Chim National University of Singapore