EXCLUSIVE: Crew caught by surprise as massive illegal haul uncovered
A CREW of Vietnamese fishermen hung their heads as they walked the boarding bridge of one of Australia's border force vessels onto Gladstone's port.
The 15 crewmen, accused of illegally fishing, were found with 17, 200 litre drums filled with sea cucumbers believed to be poached at Saumarez Reef situated off Gladstone's shore.
INITIAL LIVE COVERAGE | VIDEO: Vietnamese poachers brought onshore to Gladstone
It's the fifth Vietnamese crew accused of illegally fishing near Gladstone since November, as they continue to push the limits to catch the Asian delicacy.
Sea cucumbers sell for between $10 - 70 per kilogram in China.
They were processed and detained in Gladstone yesterday. They will be taken to a Darwin detention centre where they will wait for their court appearance.
The vessel was being watched by ABF's air surveillance before the cutter vessel Cape Jervis moved in.
The Vietnamese crew, unaware they were being watched for days, had divers in the Saumarez Reef's waters when officers arrived on April 10.
Now they could join the 165 Vietnamese fishermen who have been charged and prosecuted for illegal fishing in Australian waters since March last year.
Cape Jervis commanding officer Andrew Rourke, who spends 24 days at sea patrolling Australia's waters, believes they are doing enough to police illegal fishing.
"Right now we're getting good coverage and I think we're dealing with this effectively," Mr Rourke said.
"The message is slowly getting across to the Vietnamese, they lose their catch, their people get fined, and they lose their boats.
"The idea is that we should be making it unprofitable for them, and they won't come back."
Mr Rourke explained sea cucumber waste helps to balance the acidity level in waters in the Great Barrier Reef and also assists with coral growth.
While Mr Rourke said they emptied some sea cucumbers back into the reef, most were dead.
"With the Great Barrier Reef being reportedly in dire straights we should care that sea cucumbers are being poached because environmentally they are very important," Mr Rourke said.
"It's critical for the environmental system of the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
Conditions on the Vietnamese vessels are basic, according to Mr Rourke, and crewmen diving up to 40 metres deep to poach sea cucumbers.