China deploys 250 vessels to the Galapagos Islands – Ecuador on alert

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In recent months, China has increased its presence in the rich fishing grounds located in the Pacific Ocean. Since June, Ecuadorian officials say 325 vessels have sailed close to its exclusive economic zone on the Galapagos Islands. Of those vessels, 274 came from China and two Chinese-flagged boats ventured into the lucrative Ecuadorian waters.

Ecuadorian Defence Minister, Oswaldo Jarrín, said at least 149 vessels turned off their satellite tracking system and two came within nine nautical miles of waters controlled by Ecuador.

The commander of the Navy, Edwin Pinto, confirmed those two Chinese vessels were searched by patrols after entering its zone, and found the fishermen had encountered engine issues.

The Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific, are located more than 1,000 miles from mainland Ecuador and are known for diverse marine life.

The Galapagos, comprised of 127 different Islands, has also been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.

The unique territory is located at the confluence of three ocean currents – making it one of the richest ecosystems in the world.

Last week, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, described Chinese activity in the area as “deeply disturbing”.

Mr Pompeo called on Beijing “to be transparent and enforce its own zero tolerance policy on illegal fishing.”

He said: “Reports of 300+ Chinese vessels near the Galapagos disabling tracking systems, changing ship names, and leaving marine debris are deeply troubling.”

Ecuadorian environmental groups have called for tougher measures and denounce the fishing of protected species, such as dolphins and sharks.

The Ecuadorian Government has urged Beijing to negotiate an agreement that allows agents to board Chinese vessels for inspection, even outside the exclusive economic zone of the Galapagos in international waters.

China’s ambassador to Ecuador Chen Guoyou has insisted its fishing vessels operating in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands are complying with international fishing regulations.

He said: “Except for some delays or temporary loss of satellite signal, all Chinese ships keep operating and using monitoring systems normally.”

Mr Guoyou said the vessels are mostly fishing for squid, with a small percentage of them fishing for tuna.

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He added: “The operating characteristics of squid fishing boats do not allow the incidental capture of sharks and other protected marine species.

“China is a major fishing nation and it is also a responsible fishing nation.”

(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)

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