M/Y Age of Union Celebrates First Year of Unwavering Ocean Defense
As the M/Y Age of Union celebrates its first anniversary, Age of Union and Sea Shepherd look at the ship’s highlights and achievements from the last twelve months at sea.
In January 2022, Age of Union and the international marine conservation organization Sea Shepherd announced their forthcoming alliance as the M/Y Age of Union set sail on its first awareness campaign. The 56-metre vessel, formerly known as the Sam Simon, was rechristened following Age of Union’s three-year pledge to fund the ship’s operating costs as Sea Shepherd defends the oceans from overfishing, illegal exploitation, and environmental destruction.
“I’m excited to see the impact that this vessel will have when it rolls out into the ocean and the results we’re hoping to achieve together with this partnership,” Age of Union Founder Dax Dasilva explained alongside Captain Alex Cornelissen.
Since the announcement, the ship has welcomed a bevy of new crew members, undertaken multiple direct action campaigns, and coordinated the arrest of several supertrawlers along Europe and Africa’s western coasts. As the M/Y Age of Union celebrates its first anniversary, we look at some of the highlights and takeaways from one year at sea.
The high seas are well-known for criminal activity, human exploitation, and environmental destruction. This is largely because international waters do not fall under state jurisdiction and are, therefore, notoriously hard to govern. The High Seas Treaty agreed to by UN member states a few weeks ago, however, promises to take aim at this very issue. In a historic agreement which covers almost two-thirds of international waters, the treaty provides a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect wildlife and biodiversity on the high seas. This significant development in ocean conservation will bolster support for Sea Shepherd’s direct action campaigns in international and territorial waters.
Over the course of the past year, the M/Y Age of Union has spent 138 active days at sea patrolling a total of 18,436 nautical miles and many more days ‘at dock’ helping with evidence collection of arrested vessels. Throughout 2022, 114 crew members from 27 different countries served aboard the vessel, 58% of whom were volunteers. Of the newer additions to the crew, many had pursued a professional degree prior to joining Sea Shepherd but expressed a desire to change course and commit themselves to environmental activism.
“I was a communications student, [but] after three years of studying, realized it wasn’t the job for me,” said Lea Dumaine, a French woman who served as both quartermaster and third mate on the M/Y Age of Union. “I was dreaming of nature, freedom — but I was also aware of what humans are doing to the oceans, animals, and the planet in general.”
Another crew member, David Rodel, served as a deckhand on the ship and spoke to some of the realities of conservation work: “I am privileged enough to be in a position where I can help conserve and protect this planet of ours and try to give more than I take… That’s why I joined Sea Shepherd; that’s why I’m here on the M/Y Age of Union.”
The M/Y Age of Union embarked on its first awareness campaign, ‘Operation Dolphin Bycatch,’ in February of 2022 to draw attention to the 6,000 – 10,000 dolphins that are killed along France’s west coast as a result of bycatch each year. The ship patrolled more than 5,000 nautical miles in the Bay of Biscayne and the English Channel, during which time it was also joined by Age of Union for the production of the film CAUGHT.
While on the campaign, Sea Shepherd encountered the FV Marigis — the second-largest fishing vessel in the world — and was able to shed light on the ship’s destructive practices, documenting a trail of 100,000 dead fish in the vessel’s wake. News of the incident, later explained as a “spill” and a “very rare occurrence” by a spokesperson for the Dutch-owned F/V Margiris, gained international media attention and led France’s maritime minister to call for an investigation.
“I was aware of the environmental issues caused by overfishing due to my background in the Animal Rights movement, but when I saw what was actually happening on fishing vessels with my own eyes, I was stunned,” explained Stefano Belacchi, who served as a photographer aboard the M/Y Age of Union during the operation.
In June, the M/Y Age of Union headed south to conduct partner patrols against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing along West Africa’s coast in collaboration with local authorities. The ship spent 41 days patrolling the waters of Benin during Operation Guegou, 33 days patrolling the waters of Liberia as part of Operation Stola Stella, and 21 days patrolling a total of 2,756 nautical miles in Sierra Leone for Operation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense. During this time, the M/Y Age of Union boarded 11 ships and arrested four.
On the weekend of Sept. 3, the Liberian Coast Guard and Sea Shepherd arrested super trawler Kanball III for numerous safety violations, which resulted in the revocation of the ship’s experimental fishing license and its subsequent exit from Liberian waters.
During Operation Sierra Leone Coastal Defense, Sea Shepherd also learned that 70 trawlers had rushed back to port upon learning of the ocean conservation organization’s arrival to evade inspection by the M/Y Age of Union. While this underscores the extent of illegal activity in the commercial fishing sector, it also illustrates that Sea Shepherd’s presence serves as an effective deterrent in these waters. Moreover, the fact that many of these ships were docked or inactive during the campaign means that the oceans were spared from their presence. According to a Sea Shepherd report, “regardless of what a vessel is arrested for, every day it spends detained in the port saves tens of thousands of sea creatures… The total number of sea creatures saved [by these ships’ inactivity on the coast of Sierra Leone] is likely to be upwards of 42 million.”
Sea Shepherd’s latest campaigns along West Africa’s coast have demonstrated the need for continued patrols and the importance of working hand in hand with local governments. As the M/Y Age of Union continues its work along the coast, the organization looks forward to defending our oceans, onboarding new partners, and strengthening its ties with existing ones.
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