We’ve just had a clear demonstration of the realities of defending a very fragile environment. The Marine Conservation organisation have a fast patrol boat funded by a Canadian environmental protection group and it was asked to go out yesterday to check out a Vietnamese fishing boat not only in Cambodian waters, within the conservation area, but also suspected of illegally ‘pipe-fishing’.
This is a very dodgy practice indeed. The fishermen go down to considerable depths, breathing through a thin plastic pipe connected to the surface. They have no safe diving practices and the death rate is horrendous, either from the ‘bends’, or from respiratory and circulatory diseases or drowning. Pipe fishing is often combined with spear fishing, which is illegal here.
Neil happened to be on the pier when the ‘shout’ came in, so he hopped into the patrol boat with the others, expecting nothing more than a routine stop and search. But when they arrived at the Vietnamese boat the crew of three immediately became very aggressive and picked up meat cleavers and a spear gun - the latter pointed at Neil’s chest so that he hastily ducked down into the cabin. Someone hurled a piece of metal – possibly a lead fishing weight – which struck him on the leg but luckily didn’t break it. There was a struggle until the patrol boat managed to back away to a safe distance. One person (other than Neil) was hurt.
Environmental protection is very dangerous. A journalist recently wrote up the work that Neil’s son is involved in for the New York Times, stressing the risks that are being run. [It's a good read - click here] Currently an American documentary film maker is staying on the island filming fly-on-the-wall stuff, including the encounter with the pipe-fishing boat.
It’s a big worry when your children are involved in something so risky, however much you approve the values that drive them. What is happening to the life of our oceans is horrifying. Every night we watch pair trawlers from China and Vietnam ripping the bottom up from the sea bed. The hammocks on the island are made from the nets that have been confiscated. The mesh is so fine that nothing, even the smallest shrimp, could escape.
This can’t go on, or our oceans will become deserts. There has to be a solution. Otherwise the environment is going to become more and more of a battleground.
|a pipe-fishing boat with the pipes showing at the back of the boat|
|The fast patrol boat|
|Note the meat cleaver at the front, the iron bar aloft, and the metal weight at the back about to be hurled at Neil|
|You are being filmed|
|Neil with the trawler net|