Troubled waters: alarm over threat to Antarctic waters from faulty reefs
The vessel, the Avunda, is owned by Lilium Shipping SA, and its commercial operator is Lavinia Corporation, controlled by the Greek brothers Panos and Thanasis Laskaridis.
The brothers are major powers in global shipping and have a good relationship with the Conservative and business-friendly New Democracy Party currently in power in Greece.
They are also well known for supporting sea and shoreline cleanup efforts and, most recently, to rid Greece of single-use plastics.
The Avunda, however, faced questions about its cleanliness.
Anearly a month in Antarctica, the 27-year-old freighter left its protected waters and, on October 18, 2019, was inspected in the Chinese port of Zhoushan on the east coast of China.
There, registered inspectors 11 fouls, including a number concerning the air pollution of the ship oil filtering certificate and equipment.
The vessel was detained by the port authorities; it resurfaced in 2020, in a Greenpeace report detailing the dangers posed by reefers to perhaps the last great desert on earth.
Wwith a high failure rate in port inspections, according to oceanographers and environmental activists reefers have no place in the very sensitive waters of Antarctica.
They also dominate the so-called transshipment, the practice of transferring a catch from a vessel to another, usually from a fishing boat to a reefer. The practice is closely monitored in port, but not so far offshore, where illegal catches may be concealed. In antarctica this means krill, a crustacean essential to the Antarctic ecosystem as food for whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish and is subject to catch restrictions.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, a international body which regulates marine life in Antarctica, limits krill fishing in the Southern Ocean, but transshipment is sometimes used to bypass it.
While the Greenpeace report does not directly accuse it of illegality, in the CCAMLR area dominated by the Laskaridis family. Out of 25 reefers monitored by Greenpeace in the zone between 2017 and 2019, 19 were owned or controlled by the brothers, although some have since changed hands.
“The global reefer network facilitates the transport of fish, people and other goods across the world – operating at sea, far from scrutiny, this system is known for facilitate some of the worst behaviors on the ocean ”, says Alkis Kafetzis, Greenpeace Greece ocean activist.
“From illegal fishing to human rights violations, transshipment is at the heart of a unsustainable and damaging deep-sea fishing fleet. He allows vessels to stay at sea much longer than is safe for the crew and confuses global supply chains, making it easier to fish illegally caught to enter the market. “
Laskaridis deny having anything to do with illegal cargo and say faults found by the inspectors on their boats are minor and quickly corrected before resuming the road.
CCAMLR – The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – was established almost four decades ago in response to growing commercial interest in krill and the dangers it poses to marine life in Antarctica.
The Commission issues licenses for toothfish and krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean, and all vessels navigating in the controlled area – including fishing vessels and reefer vessels – need permission to do so.
Between 2017 and 2019, six vessels owned or controlled by Laskaridis were sighted by Greenpeace in the protected areas of Antarctica and subsequently detained in port, the the most severe sanction that a port inspector can impose.
Of the six, besides the Avunda, another ship – a reefer named Iris – had flaws that could be considered a risk for the environment.
Monitoring data obtained by BIRN shows that the Iris entered CCAMLR waters in March 2017 and again in March 2018, traveling to the South Shetland Islands at the top of Antarctica.
The Iris flying the Panamanian flag, owned by the Laskaridis brothers via their Seaview Maritime SA, wdetained in Zhoushan in October 2017 between two trips to Antarctica.
Aaccording to Lloyd’s List Intelligence, a maritime information service, a total of 10 faults wwere recorded, including several concerning the ship’s purification plant, the filtering of the oil equipment and lifeboats.