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It is a tanker of Chinese origin that can load up to 17 million liters of diesel. Spend months at sea to sell fuel to fishermen in the area who do not want to return to port. For experts, it is a fundamental gear in an ocean exploitation system that has neither pause nor mercy with the marine ecosystem.
The days go by, ships and buoys floating alone in the ocean and the image of the fishing industry is increasingly drawn to us. The first and most obvious was to cross with longliners. Greenpeace relieved information from one and made a protest action on another.
Then we cross a famous transhipment vessel: vessels that serve as refrigerators or warehouses for fishermen. They are huge vessels of the same fishing companies that, in order to prevent their ships from having to return to the port to leave the cargo, they store it on board and provide the smaller boats with food or the supplies they require. Thus, crew members can spend months and months on the high seas (usually three or six, but who knows if some more time still).
For Spanish ships – inhabitants of this area – this type of technique is not so necessary because they come closer, but those of Asian origin require other types of operations. To reach the Blue Hole, the area bordering the Argentine sea, they travel up to 11,200 nautical miles (almost 21,000 kilometers).
But now from Hope we saw another fundamental part of the gear: the tanker or tankers . They are, simply put, service stations in the middle of the ocean.
The information of its presence in the South Atlantic was given to us by radar on Wednesday night. If everything went well, today at dawn we should find it. At five o’clock in the morning, Craig, the master of Hope (and my cabin mate), shot out of bed . He doesn’t use an alarm: every morning he knows when he has to get up and he does it without even hesitating a point. I listened to his movements and asked him to keep me updated.
He returned to the cabin around seven in the morning. The tanker had seen our presence and had suddenly moved away, as if he wanted to avoid us. He did so for a few hours. There was a meeting on the bridge and the captain, Sergei (of Ukrainian origin), decided to go on his search. We expected it sooner than expected . It was only 20 miles outside the exclusive Argentine economic zone. We put on the protective suits (some kilos weighing five kilos), and we went out to the gummies.
The following was the fascination and horror combined. A few minutes after breaking waves with the boat, we saw the mole in the middle of the water: 144 meters in length that look like a small city under construction from afar, as if on the deck they were about to build a building . Its details are more closely perceived: a huge catwalk where it operates and seven floors for the work of the crew.
One of the chimneys is painted in the colors of the Panama flag. It is in fact the nationality that the ship uses. It is called a “flag of convenience” because it allows the ship to enjoy the legal privileges (especially in ports) of the country they claim to be, but in reality they are of another nationality. This ship by case is from a Chinese company and all its crew is from there. His name had to be reserved in this note as part of an agreement with the ship to allow us to register its operations.
Its function is as unusual as it is logical: it sells fuel to fishermen in the area . Its customers are almost exclusively Asian ships, who spend too much fuel to arrive from their place of origin. Many Spanish fishermen also operate in the area, but when they come from Europe they usually reload in the port of Montevideo, which they have left. For their itinerary, Asians directly load in the middle of the sea: a ship is placed next to each other and the fuel is transferred through a hose.
How much can this mysterious maritime service station store? No less than 17 million liters of diesel . Its place of provision would be the island of Las Palmas, where it gets the cheapest fuel. From there, to the middle of the sea, where it will be months serving fishermen who, in turn, allow them to spend much longer seasons than any vessel would originally endure. The speculation within the Esperanza (given that the ship looked freshly painted) is that it arrived in the area to pass the season (which begins in January and ends in July).
With the presence of tankers in international waters the damages multiply: on the one hand the work for the fishermen becomes completely inhuman by not having contact with land for months, and on the other hand the marine ecosystem does not have a day of rest. It is that although the high season in this area is the first seven months of the year, given the characteristics of the industry there is uninterrupted fishing 365 days regardless of the consequences . The main species sought here are black hake and pollock, both species considered fragile (an instance prior to the danger of extinction).
A fishing vessel consumes an average of 15 or 20 cubic meters of diesel oil per day (between 15,000 and 20,000 litos), depending on the amount of trawling it has done (that is, depending on how much fishing it has raised). The method of loading fuel at sea is the following: the two ships are moored, the tanker lifts a crane with a hose and extends it to the ship to be loaded, hooks on the valves on the deck and passes the diesel.
Greenpeace communicated with the tanker before the survey of the gummies and its researchers are finding out if it has the security measures in conditions, although being international waters the truth is that there is no one who requires it to comply with the rules. Of course, there is always a fear of a spill or an accident, but beyond that the problem that undresses their presence is that of overfishing and the practices that devastate marine life. And an older one: there is no regulation to follow.
Although unusual, its presence is technically not illegal. That’s why one of the posters of Greenpeace activists says: Global Treaty for the oceans now. In March 2020, the United Nations will discuss this issue in New York. For this, this campaign is carried out, to arrive at that meeting with as much evidence as possible and thus ensure that countries sanction protection conditions for companies that want to fish in international waters.
We have been at sea for six days and saw two ecosystems. It seems once again a story by Charles Dickens : it was the most wonderful of ecosystems, it was the most horrendous of ecosystems. He was the most vital of the worlds, he was the most decrepit of the worlds. It was the most natural of the oceans, it was the most industrial of the oceans. If the life under the sea depends on the life on that same sea, the things do not seem to go towards good port.
And if not, take a boat and go sailing. You will not find sirens but yes, maybe, a fuel station where to stop to rest.