“They Ate Cats for Lunch” : harrowing tales from one of two trawlers arrested off Liberian coast

Monday, 31 Oct, 2022

Four cats designated as food for the crew were found on board one of two fishing trawlers arrested off the coast of West Africa by a Liberian Coast Guard detachment stationed onboard the Sea Shepherd Global ship Age of Union.  

Liberian Coast Guard board Guo Ji 831. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global. Scroll for more images.
Liberian Coast Guard on the deck of Guo Ji 831. Photo by Manuel Lopez / Sea Shepherd Global.
Liberian Coast Guard on board arrested trawler with Age of Union in background. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.
Octopus on the trawl deck of Guo Ji 831. Photo by Manuel Lopez / Sea Shepherd Global.
Age of Union from bridge window of arrested trawler. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.

On the 27th of September, Liberian Coast Guard sailors, assisted by Sea Shepherd Global, boarded an unidentified trawler that was not transmitting its identity through their automatic identification system (AIS), a mandatory tracking system that communicates a vessel’s identity and position to other vessels, including fisheries enforcement.  

On boarding the vessel, Coast Guard inspectors identified the trawler as Guo Ji 831, and uncovered serious maritime safety violations and unsafe living conditions.  

“The crew living conditions were appalling, as the Liberian crew were forced to sleep on soiled mattresses or on flattened carboard boxes, crawling with cockroaches, while the foreign officers had comfortable beds. The walls were slick with wet mold and water ran into the crew sleeping accommodation through port holes that were not water-tight”, said Peter Hammarstedt, Director of Campaigns for Sea Shepherd Global. Four cats were also found living on board the ship. 

“It’s not uncommon for a vessel to have a ship’s cat to catch rats on board. But it was made clear to me that these four were destined for human consumption in order to add variety to a daily meal of eating fish discards, the marine life that the fishing master deemed unsuitable for sale. They ate cats for lunch. It was a little ship of horrors,."

Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd Global Director of Campaigns
Liberian Coast Guard with Age of Union in the background. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.
Cooking area for crew on Guo Ji 831. Photo by Manuel Lopez / Sea Shepherd Global.
Hygienic conditions on board arrested trawler. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.
Baby octopus in the trawl net of Guo Ji 831. Photo by Manuel Lopez / Sea Shepherd Global.

Guo Ji 831 was placed under arrest for maritime safety violations and electronic identity fraud. 

Earlier in the month, on the 10th of September, another trawler was arrested for similar offenses after it was boarded under suspicion of transmitting a false electronic identity, common practice by fishers to deliberately mislead law enforcement authorities, and a red flag for a possible history of illegal fishing.  

Despite the name Guo Ji 829 emblazoned on the hull, the trawler was transmitting its name as Zhe Dond Yu 83032 on its AIS. There is no such vessel as the Zhe Dond Yu 83032.  

On inspection, the ship had expired lifesaving appliances ranging from missing fire hoses to unserviceable fire extinguishers. Investigators discovered a passport for a crewman who was not onboard. The vessel was arrested. 

Last year, Age of Union worked together with the Liberian Coast Guard to rescue twelve people when a ferry sank after taking on water off the Liberian coast. Many passengers died, including children, because Niko Ivanka did not carry flotation devices for the entire complement. 

“My Coast Guardsmen saw firsthand the consequences of vessels operating in violation of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, when they saved twelve souls from a sunken ferry last year. The Liberian Coast Guard cannot–and will not–accept that vessels are operating in Liberian waters, putting profits before safety and therefore will arrest any fishing vessel not complying with Liberian law,” said Liberia’s Minister of National Defense, the Honorable Maj Gen (Ret.) Daniel Ziankhan. 

Guo Ji 831 arrested in the Port of Monrovia. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.

About Operation Sola Stella 

Since 2017, Sea Shepherd Global has partnered with the Liberian Coast Guard to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through joint at-sea patrols under the direction of Liberia’s Minister of National Defense, the Honorable Maj Gen (Ret.) Daniel Ziankahn. To date, 21 vessels have been arrested for illegal fishing and other crimes.  

On February 11, 2019, Sea Shepherd Global was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by Liberian President Dr. George Manneh Weah in recognition of the success of Operation Sola Stella. The DSO is the highest military award given by the Ministry of National Defense and the Armed Forces of Liberia, recognizing exceptional service to the Republic of Liberia. 

Operation Sola Stella Home Page

Age of Union with arrested Guo Ji 829. Photo by Sea Shepherd Global.
Share this

Thank you. Please consider sharing with your family and friends to help save more marine lives!