Under Attack at Coiba
The Sea Shepherd vessel named for benefactor John Paul DeJoria was recently attacked by poachers while patrolling a protected marine zone off Panama’s Pacific coast. The following is Dive Officer Ben Harris’s first-hand account of what happened on June 28, 2017.
The John Paul Dejoria had been transiting through and around Coiba National Park and its special zone of marine protection, monitoring and documenting fishing inside its borders. Despite being declared a UNESCO world heritage site for more than 10 years, this is a place where not only sport fishing is allowed but also longline fishing for tuna and whatever else gets snagged on the indiscriminate hooks laid out mile after mile.
Around 3 pm, we approached an area we could see from miles away was being heavily fished. Arriving on the scene of carnage, we found five fishing boats dragging baited longlines and chumming the water around them. It was a frenzy, a massacre, with lines being pulled everywhere, tunas thrashing to break free and dolphins fleeing the scene. Tunas and marlins were being dragged over the sides and beaten to death while fresh lines were hurled over the side for more “artesanal” fishing.
We got our cameras out and began filming the mayhem to document what was being allowed to happen inside a supposed “protected” zone, which in reality has no protection at all.
The fishermen did not like that at all and began hurling insults at us and throwing objects at our drone overhead capturing aerial footage. Then, with all the manoeuvring around us and the dragging of lines below the surface, we realized we had still managed to run over a longline that was now entangled in our propeller.
Our captain put the ship in neutral gear and we began pulling up the line and cutting it to free ourselves. We then came under attack by one of the fishing boats, the Abuelo 1. It charged towards us and hit the side of our ship, inflicting minor damage to the port bow. Those onboard waved a heavy metal bar at us and the captain began to hurl a grappling hook towards us on a rope, but thought better of it at the last second. Another stood menacingly on the Abuelo’s bow with lead weights in his hands.
The John Paul DeJoria crew remained on deck, not moving or engaging in violence but filming all that was going on. Once we were sure our propeller was free of line, we engaged the engines and headed over to the ranger station, where we reported all that had just happened.
Later we heard accusations of us having weapons and a number of other lies that have no basis. Last night, our ship was put under arrest, despite no charges being filed and us being the ones who were attacked.