OFFICIAL CORRECTION UPDATE 1-Seven Chinese vessels detained off West Africa for illegal fishing
(Refiles with Greenpeace correcting number of ships detained to 7)
By Emma Farge
DAKAR May 2 (Reuters) - West African countries have detained seven Chinese ships for fishing illegally and the boats' owners could be subject to millions of dollars in fines, environmental group Greenpeace and government officials said.
Inspectors from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau boarded the ships off their coasts that they found to be violating regulations on catching protected fish and using nets with small holes to facilitate bigger hauls.
The arrests came after a two-month regional patrol on a Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, that carried inspectors from the West African countries in a bid to supplement national efforts often hamstrung by budget and technology constraints.
"This is a surprisingly high amount of arrests, especially considering that the vessels knew about our patrols in advance," Greenpeace's Pavel Klinckhamers said on Tuesday.
West Africa has some of the richest waters in the world, but stocks are being depleted as industrial trawlers, some operating illegally, comb the oceans from the seabed to the surface, Greenpeace says.
A study in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science estimated West Africa's annual losses from illegal and unregulated fishing at $2.3 billion.
The Esperanza patrol found 11 vessels in breach of regulations out of 37 stopped, and reported the breaches to local authorities, who towed them back to port. Continued...