Police said the Pacific nation of Vanuatu has detained two Chinese fishing boats and a Russian yacht due to concerns that the ships were operating illegally in its waters.
It is believed that this is the first time that authorities in Vanuatu have detained Chinese fishing vessels.
Police said the two Chinese boats, Dong Gangxing 13 and 16, were arrested by a police patrol boat on January 19 near Hue Island in the northern waters of Vanuatu.
The boats are currently docked in Port Vila, where 14 Chinese citizens are under quarantine for Covid-19 before being questioned on suspicion of illegal fishing.
Police said that while escorting the Chinese ships back to the capital, the patrol boat also spotted a Russian yacht near Luganville.
Three Russian citizens who were on the plane have been arrested and will also face interrogation regarding their presence near Vanuatu’s second largest city.
The arrests come as Chinese fishing activities in the Pacific are in the spotlight after Palau seized another ship last month.
While Palau enjoys a strained relationship with China due to its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, Vanuatu is an ally of Beijing and receives significant aid from the Asian superpower.
A report by the London-based Overseas Development Institute found last year that China has the largest fishing fleet in remote waters in the world, with an estimated 17,000 vessels.
She described China as the “most important player” in illegal fishing around the world, citing the fleet’s poor judgment and failure to follow sustainable practices.
Beijing denies the accusations. “As a responsible fishing nation, China is committed to a path of green and sustainable development,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in December.
Vanuatu closed its air and sea borders last March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, amid concerns that the limited healthcare system will not be able to handle the virus outbreak.
It has so far managed to keep the coronavirus out of society, with only one case recorded in quarantine in November.
The Chinese embassy in Port Vila did not respond to requests for comment.
str-ns / al / jah