The Viarsa chapter
To a large extent the region of Galicia – home to Europe’s largest fishing port, Vigo – is still reliant on fish even though the waters of the European Union are among the most exploited in the world.
It is here in Galicia that a handful of families have pulled the strings of a transnational network of vessels. And it’s the Vidal family that helped many get into the business by navigating the vessel registration process in Uruguay – a base from which many of the blacklisted ships operated. The Vidals set up offices in Montevideo, hired locals to manage and – when legal claims were brought – to take the blame, court records show.
It was one of those Uruguay-flagged vessels, the Viarsa 1, that put the Vidals on the radar of law enforcement officials around the world.
The Viarsa was spotted in a 2003 suspected illegal fishing operation at Heard Island near the Antarctic Peninsula http://www.hookupdate.net/kink-dating. Two years and two trials later, the Vidal affiliate that owned the vessel was acquitted in court. The defense had argued that the toothfish in the Viarsa’s hold had been caught before the vessel entered Australian waters.
The Viarsa chase soon became the subject of a critically acclaimed book. “I know that [the author] had to rewrite the end [when we won!]” Vidal Pego said, with an ironic smile.
According to Vidal Pego, after the Australian authorities lost the case, an international campaign started. “There was tremendous pressure against everything that sounded like Vidal Armadores.”
Vidal Pego is now the face of the company. He is dressed in a black suit, a light pink chequered tie, flashing shiny silver cufflinks and buffed black leather shoes. He is obliging and affable. The only one in the room who is losing composure is Vidal Armadores’ press officer, Foro Hernandez, who is repeatedly angered when questions get detailed.
The older Vidal – or “Tucho” – does not join the interview. At 59, he is a legend in fishing circles, a pillar of a clan with a long-standing fishing tradition. He went to sea as a kid, long before Spain joined the European Union, when there were few laws governing how much or where he could fish. He has never spoken to the press except to tell them to “get lost” in that traditional language of the region.
Vidal Pego by contrast spent a year studying in Louisiana, carries a Blackberry and zealously guards his well-buffed image. He says he fears seeing his name in Google searches for the next 10 years whenever someone types “illegal toothfish.”
The Australian patrol vessel Southern Supporter chased the Viarsa for 21 days almost all the way to South Africa – a chase that ended with the Viarsa being escorted back to Australia
But while Vidal Pego wants to put fishing behind him, Vidal Armadores continues to attract the attention of authorities. Just this February, fisheries inspectors from New Zealand snapped pictures from a plane as two blacklisted vessels, which had long been controlled by Vidal affiliates, plied their trade in the toothfish-rich waters of the eastern Indian Ocean, European Commission records show.
The Xiong Nu Baru and Sima Qian Baru were flying a North Korean flag – a country not party to the Antarctic fishing treaty protecting the area. The Sima Qian Baru used to be the Vidal Armadores ship the Dorita, flying a Uruguayan flag, according to official blacklists maintained by fisheries regulators. Before that it was the Magnus, flagged to St. Vincent & the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Before that it was the Eolo, flagged to Equatorial Guinea.