Faked, false or forged documents linked to vessel identity are widely used by illegal operators. They are used to hide fishing and operational history and activity, reduce costs, misinform and confuse licensing, flagging and inspection authorities, cover up a history of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and evade sanctions when caught violating regulations or breaking laws.
Trygg Mat Tracking, Stop Illegal Fishing and their partners have produced the ‘Document Verification Manual: Vessel Identity’ to provide practical training and case studies illustrating how document verification has been used to uncover cases of illegal fishing.
In 2018, INTERPOL warned about resurgence in fraudulent abuse of flag State registries for fishing vessels, which confirmed what had been observed through investigations by the FISH-i Africa and West Africa Task Forces and internationally in the past years. Yet, little information is available on vessel identity fraud and how this widespread fisheries crime is facilitated by document forgery.
This manual focuses on vessel identity, nationality, authorisation status, operational history, and related fraudulent practices, and primarily looks into what a vessel “says” about itself, rather than what the catch “says”. The use of genuine documents obtained by corruption or deception, documents that have been doctored, fake documents that have been created and the use of documents incorrectly are considered.
Document verification plays an important role in ensuring the legal operation of fishing vessels. It is essential that vessel documents are systematically verified as part of the fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) process. Through visual analysis, crosschecking information and verifying information with issuing authorities, fisheries officials conducting due diligence checks or inspections can identify high-risk vessels and operators who are not complying with the regulations.
The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Task Force on IUU has endorsed the Manual for use within the region.
Dr Motseki Hlatshwayo commented, “The Document Verification Manual highlights a malpractice that has become symptomatic in many African fisheries. We cannot combat IUU fishing without being able to verify documents provided to us by the vessel owners. This manual is therefore one of the most important recent contributions on how to combat IUU fishing and fisheries crimes in Africa. We now need to change our practices and ensure the manual becomes part of our risk assessment – when we license, flag or inspect fishing vessels.”
Per Erik Bergh, Stop Illegal Fishing said, “This Manual will provide practical help for fisheries enforcement officers as they try to identify vessels and operators that are involved in illegal fishing. Conducting checks on vessel documents when they request entry into port is a key part of implementing effective port State measures. This enables officers to identify potential infractions and target inspections, or to deny port access or services – a powerful response to those acting illegally.”
Duncan Copeland of Trygg Mat Tracking stated, “The practices linked to the falsification of vessel documents and vessel identify fraud come up over and over in TMT’s intelligence and capacity support to our country partners. This manual fills the training gap on these issues, providing practical lessons drawn from real cases in East and West Africa, and will arm inspectors on the front line – in ports and at sea – with better knowledge and skills to identify and investigate document and vessel identity fraud.”
The Document Verification Manual: Vessel Identity was produced by Stop Illegal Fishing and Trygg Mat Tracking in support of the FISH-i Africa Task Force, the West Africa Task Force and the African Ports Network.
The Photo Manual for Fisheries Enforcement, published in 2017 has proved a useful resource for those involved in identifying vessels involved in illegal fishing, and is also available to download.