Court case begins on two Chinese vessels

Vanuatu’s Magistrates’ Court has begun hearing the case against two Chinese vessels and their crews for alleged illegal entry and illegal fishing.

The authorities have held the vessels in Port Vila since mid-February, while police and the Fisheries Department investigated allegations the vessels had entered Vanuatu waters in breach of COVID-19 State of Emergency restrictions.

The two vessels were seized by the government patrol boat RVS Tukoro in Torba Province, in the north of Vanuatu.

The Compliance Officer for the Fisheries Department, Iakar Silas, says the police and departmental investigation has produced a strong basis for the prosecution of the case in court.

“It has been a two-week joint investigation between the Fisheries Department and the police,” Mr Silas said.

“We are not commenting at this stage [on the court proceedings], but it is likely there will be a request for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court.

“It is up to the court to make the ruling based on what we have prepared for the Office of the Public Prosecutor.”

Mr Silas says, “The case has now been adjourned for the Public Prosecutor to prepare the case and it will return to court in seven days.”

The Director of the Customs Department, Harold Tarosa, says if the two vessels are found to have broken Vanuatu’s border and State of Emergency laws and regulations a heavy penalty will be imposed.

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