New Zealand requests Interpol notice to identify illegal fishing vessel

Media contact: MPI Media Phone
Telephone: 029 894 0328

Interpol has issued a ‘purple notice’ at New Zealand’s request, seeking information regarding the whereabouts and activities of the fishing vessel currently named Thunder, which has been suspected of illegal fishing.

This is the first time New Zealand has requested an Interpol purple notice for suspected violations of international fisheries law.

Information is being sought regarding the individuals and networks that own, operate and profit from the suspected illegal actions of the vessel.

“Thunder has been operating under a number of names and flags over several years and we believe this is being done to avoid been caught violating international laws and conventions,” says Gary Orr, the Ministry for Primary Industries Manager Operational Coordination.

Thunder has been on the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessel list of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) since 2006 because its illegal fishing activity in CCAMLR waters undermines the convention’s conservation objectives.

It has deliberately changed its identity a number of times to avoid sanctions such as denial of fishing permits and permission to enter ports.

“It has used three identities interchangeably, including the use of removable name plates with different vessel names on the stern and pilothouse,” says Mr Orr.

The three known identities with flag states are: Wuhan No.4 (Mongolia), Thunder (Nigeria), and Kuko (unknown flag).

The vessel was last sighted in the Southern Ocean on September 2013, northwest of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, by an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service aircraft conducting a routine maritime surveillance patrol.

New Zealand’s request was supported by Norway and Australia. It is the third purple notice Interpol have issued since formation of the Interpol Fisheries Crime working group in 2012 made the issuing of purple notices for fisheries crime possible. New Zealand is a party to the working group and a member of Interpol.

The purple notice will be circulated by Interpol to relevant law enforcement agencies in all 190 member countries.


For more information:

Jude Hamblyn,
Senior Communications Adviser,
Ministry for Primary Industries, 
Ph 04 894 2490, 
Media phone 029 894 0328.

Interpol media release:


What is a purple notice?

Interpol purple notices are used to seek or provide information on modus operandi, objects, devices, and concealment methods used by criminals.

What is Interpol’s involvement in fisheries crime?

INTERPOL has established a Fisheries Crime Working Group to combat international fisheries crime.

Environmental crime, including fisheries crime, is a growing international problem. It is not restricted by borders and can affect a nation’s economy, security and even existence.

A significant proportion this crime is carried out by organized criminal networks and often occurs hand in hand with other offences such as passport fraud, corruption, money laundering and murder.

Interpol has networks in place to share and process criminal information globally.

What is New Zealand’s involvement?

New Zealand is a member of Interpol and a party to the Interpol Fisheries Working Group established in 2012.

What are New Zealand’s international fisheries obligations?

Fishing on the high seas is governed through international treaties agreed between States. New Zealand has signed up to many of these treaties, and as a result, has a range of international obligations that are incorporated into New Zealand law. The two main treaties are:

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which governs high seas fishing (among other things). It sets out a framework of rights, obligations and duties with respect to high seas fishing – most importantly, the freedom to fish on the high seas, balanced with the responsibility for a State to control the activities of its nationals and vessels.

The 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) builds on UNCLOS provisions, and sets out the framework for cooperation with other countries to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna and stocks that straddle both the high seas and a state's EEZ. New Zealand’s obligations in respect of these instruments are set out in Part 6A of the Fisheries Act.

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations or agreements fall within the broad framework of UNCLOS and UNFSA to manage specific areas of ocean, or in some cases specific fisheries. New Zealand is a member of four RFMOs –

Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna

Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission

South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO), managing waters from Western Australia to South America, including the Tasman Sea and South Pacific Ocean

Each RFMO is established through a legally binding Convention.

New Zealand meets annually with other member States to negotiate access to fisheries for New Zealand vessels and agree specific measures to conserve and manage the fisheries and their associated ecosystems. These measures are then incorporated into New Zealand laws and become legally binding on New Zealand vessels, companies and nationals.

IUU Fishing

A majority of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) maintain lists of vessels identified by their member states as having engaged in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the area of high seas regulated by the RFMO. Vessels listed as ‘IUU’ or ‘blacklisted’ vessels are known to have engaged in or supported fishing activities in contravention of RFMO rules.

‘Blacklisted’ vessels are subject to restrictions and sanctions imposed by the member states of the RFMO. Such sanctions include: prohibiting the blacklisted vessel from interacting with a state’s own vessels; denying it entry to a state’s ports; or denying it a license to fish in state waters. In this manner, blacklisting limits a vessel’s ability to operate in a given area.

What will happen if Thunder is found?

Its details such as location and flag will be reported to Interpol. If the nationality of the operators is verified they may be subject to sanctions from RMFO member states as well as investigation by their country of nationality. New Zealand fisheries personnel are only able to board the vessel if it is operating under a flag that is a party to either the RMFO, UN fish stock agreement or with the approval of the flag state. In the absence of any of those only NZDF may board pursuant to UNCLOS to determine flag status. At this date it has not violated New Zealand fisheries law.

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