LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A court in Sao Tome and Principe has convicted the Chilean captain and two Spanish crew members of a ship investigated for illegal fishing for years by Interpol and a 10-country task force, the West African island nation's attorney general said Wednesday.
The court in the former Portuguese colony found the men guilty of crimes against nature, forging documents, polluting the sea and dangerous piloting of a vessel, Frederique Samba Viegas D*Abreu told The Associated Press.
The men were sentenced Monday to up to three years in prison or a fine of 5 million euros ($5.7 million) each, he said in a telephone interview. The court found they intentionally sank their vessel, the Thunder, off Sao Tome in April when they feared capture after being chased for around 100 days by a vessel belonging to the environmental activist group Sea Shepherd.
Interpol said the convictions are "a major success" in fighting illegal fishing. It said in a statement it warned countries worldwide in 2013 that the Chilean vessel was involved in illegal fishing and was trying to conceal its identity and activities. Following that, Interpol helped 15 countries with their investigations into the Thunder, which was poaching Antarctic toothfish, a delicacy marketed in North America as Chilean sea bass.
Viegas D*Abreu said his impoverished country received technical support in its investigation from countries such as Canada and Germany, as well as Interpol and Sea Shepherd, and the convictions showed that "with close international cooperation ... we have a good chance of cracking down on these criminal gangs."
Interpol believes the Thunder was operated by a Spanish-based network, but Viegas D*Abreu said Spain never replied to court requests for information.
In June, authorities in Spain accused a company of running a lucrative international operation that illegally captured vast amounts of an Antarctic fish.