Sierra Leone ends flag of convenience for fishing vessels
By Simon Akam
FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone is closing its international shipping registry to foreign-owned fishing vessels in a move intended to reduce illegal catches in its seas and around the world, the fisheries minister said on Thursday.
Officials said the West African country -- notorious as a so-called "flag of convenience" with minimum enforcement of maritime regulations -- was the first such nation in the world to implement the measure.
"When these vessels fly our flag they go to the open ocean and there's nothing we can do about it," Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Joseph Koroma told a news conference.
"We are saying enough is enough, the buck stops here."
The minister added that the ban on foreign-owned shipping would only apply to fishing craft. Other commercial vessels will still be able to register in the country.
Sierra Leone's devastating civil war came to an end eight years ago. Now between 40 and 50 foreign-owned fishing vessels are signed up with a registry in New Orleans that allows them to fly the country's green, white and blue flag.
Activists say these ships use the flag to disguise illegal activities and their identities, using banned fishing gear and operating inside an inshore fishing zone reserved for artisanal fishermen in Sierra Leone itself as well as much further afield.