>Escorting illegal high seas drift net fishers

>Two Days

My name is Ensign Andrew Brown and I recently served as a member of the custody crew for our recent seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel for illegal high seas drift net fishing.

My adventure began when my supervisor came to me and asked “So, Mr. Brown, what are you doing the next couple of days?”

“Oh, nothing in particular, just standing my watches and studying for my qualification boards, sir,” I calmly replied, not even half-expecting my next assignment.

“Well, after talking it over with the XO, we’re sending you over to the seized vessel as part of the custody crew so you can make observations for public affairs purposes and get a sense of what it’s like to be a Boarding Officer, so go pack your things.”

Without a minute to lose, I excitedly started making preparations for the next morning.
Early the next morning, the small boat was lowered into water with the Boarding Officer, the Boarding Team and me, along with boxes of supplies and food and several jugs of fresh water.
“Mark Three underway with 7 POB!” I shouted to the bridge through the VHF radio as we sped off towards the fishing vessel.

Maneuvering the small boat through 12 foot swells, the coxswain brought us alongside the fishing vessel that had been steaming alongside our cutter for over three days. The off going custody crew dropped the Jacobs Ladder down to our small boat and we transferred our gear and supplies and started climbing the ladder to the rail.

That’s when the smell hit me. The rusty, decrepit fishing boat was ridden with the smell of fish. The wooden deck was not brown, but black, covered in the decayed ink of all the squid that had been caught. From the corner of my eye, I saw a rat scamper across the deck to the forecastle to hide underneath a pile of tangled nets.

“Well, are we glad to see all of you!” said the off going Boarding Officer.
The off going Boarding Team looked exhausted and dirty and smelled like fish and sweat.
After completing a comprehensive pass down of information, we helped the off going Boarding Team load their gear into the small boat and climb down the Jacobs Ladder. The bright orange small boat became smaller and smaller as it sped back towards our cutter.

I could never have imagined what one of these squid jig fishing boats actually looked like up close. Approximately 150 feet long, this fishing boat seemed almost ancient, but had actually just been built five years ago. Rows of bright squid jigging lights lined the port and starboard sides of the hull. I thought of the large, bright looms that these lights make on the horizon during my night watches on the bridge.

Squid jigs and nets were strewn across the deck and inside the scuppers. Having written the report, I knew that 140 tons of squid were underneath me.

We placed our gear and supplies amidships on the working deck and made our way up to the pilothouse of the fishing boat to meet the master and the embarked China Fisheries Law Enforcement officer who had assumed command of the boat.

The inside of the boat was in worse shape than the outside and smelled just as bad. The interior was rusted and very dirty and the head onboard did not have running water.

Before climbing the last flight of stairs, there was a small table with several stools where the fishermen would eat, drink, and play cards.

As I walked into the bridge of the fishing boat, I hit my head on the ceiling, which was less than five and a half feet tall. The bridge was cluttered and disorganized and painted light green. Neither the gyrocompass or magnetic compass was functional, but a GPS system was used for navigation instead.

Two fishermen stood watch at one time, one lookout and one helmsman.

As I stood my watches on the bridge I found myself, quite literally, on a slow boat to China. Standing watch was very uncomfortable as the five of us confined ourselves to the port side of the bridge so to keep a close eye on the course steered by the helmsman, the safety of the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement officer in the master’s stateroom, and vigilantly monitor the actions of the fishermen.

For our meals, we ate MREs and drank water from a water jug we had brought with us. Sleeping was very difficult and I did not sleep for more than two hours at a time. I was often woken up by loud chatter in Mandarin. Every hour the bridge watch on the cutter would hail us on VHF radio to check on us.

“Boarding Officer, Munro, request ops normal.”

“Munro, BO, ops normal.”

Late in the evening on the next day, we rendezvoused with the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement patrol boat to transfer custody of the illegal fishing vessel to the Government of China.

The custody transfer was completed very quickly. Our small boat came alongside the fishing boat with a crew of CFLE officers. After transferring their gear, supplies, and personnel, we began to disembark the fishing boat.

“Mark Three underway with 7 POB!” I shouted to Munro bridge on VHF radio.

We were hoisted out of the water and were back home, onboard our cutter.

During my experience onboard the Chinese fishing boat, I gained a new appreciation for the many privileges and protections that are now afforded to the American people, especially to those of us at sea.