Former Ministers media release
Dangerous ice pursuit of Viarsa now longest in Australian maritime history - Monday, 25th August 2003
The ongoing pursuit of the suspected illegal fishing vessel Viarsa in the Southern Ocean has now entered its 18th day, surpassing the previous Australian record of 15 days and 3,300 nautical miles (around 6,100 km).
The Australian Customs and Fisheries patrol vessel Southern Supporter has been pursuing the vessel through treacherous Antarctic waters since it was first sighted in the Australian Fishing Zone around Heard Island and McDonald Islands on 7 August.
More than 70 icebergs have been sighted by the Southern Supporter in the past 24 hours, representing a major challenge to safe navigation.
Minister for Justice and Customs Senator Chris Ellison said grave fears were held for the safety of the Viarsa if it continued on its present course.
"Advice from the Southern Supporter is that the navigation of the Viarsa in these conditions is reckless. The master has ignored strong recommendations to head north out of danger," Senator Ellison said.
"It is pointless for the Viarsa to continue on its present course, which presents a high risk of collision with an iceberg. The master should immediately cease compromising the safety of his vessel and crew and comply with the directions of the Australian officials aboard the Southern Supporter."
Federal Fisheries Minister Senator Ian Macdonald said that the vessel had travelled westward over 3,700 nautical miles (over 6,800 km) since the chase first began, with no signs of slowing.
"The vessel, with the Southern Supporter on its tail, is currently located about 1580 nautical miles (around 3,000 km) south west of Cape Town, South Africa," Senator Macdonald said.
"Now into its 18th day of pursuit, it has taken the record for both the distance travelled and the number of days defying the lawful requests of the Australian authorities.
"The previous Australian record for the longest pursuit was set back in March 2001, with the pursuit of the Togo-registered South Tomi, also suspected of illegally fishing for Patagonian toothfish in Australian sub-Antarctic waters.
"In this case, what followed was a 3,300 nautical mile pursuit by the Southern Supporter which lasted 15 days, ending when the South Tomi was boarded near Cape Town by Australian Defence Force personnel assisted by South African Defence Forces. The South Tomi was eventually brought back to the Australian port of Fremantle and will enter a watery grave later this year.
"The chase for the Viarsa has now surpassed that historic effort."
Senator Macdonald said that the Viarsa was fast running out of options, with the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas, on a direct intercept course.
"The best action the Viarsa could take right now would be to stop trying to outrun the Southern Supporter and to comply with orders to return to an appropriate port."
For further information, please contact:
Senator Macdonald's Office: Philip Connole 02 6277 7270 or 0417 063 605
Senator Ellison's Office: Michael Barrett 02 6277 7260 or 0419 424 359
Dr Stone's Office: Amanda Kennedy 02 6277 2016 or 0423 577 045
Operational updates and new images are available from the Customs website at in the Media room.
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