Sen. Mark Begich wants rat-infested vessel accused of illegal fishing to be sunk

Crew members from the seized high seas drift netter Bangun Perkassa arrive Monday afternoon, Oct. 3, 2011 in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The Coast Guard seized the Bangun Perkasa on Sept. 7, about 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, after receiving a report that the vessel was fishing illegally with a drift net. Authorities reported finding 30 tons of squid and 30 shark carcasses on board. The vessel was being kept 3 miles off Dutch Harbor because it is infested with rats. (AP Photo/Jim Paulin)

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Tuesday called on the Coast Guard to sink a stateless, rat-infested vessel accused of illegal fishing.

In a letter to the Coast Guard’s commandant, Begich said sinking the Bangun Perkasa would send a clear signal that “pirate” fishing is unacceptable to the United States, and won’t be tolerated.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman in Alaska, Sara Francis, said a decision about what to do with the vessel would be made by NOAA Fisheries. A spokeswoman for that agency, Julie Speegle, said the options for how best to deal with the vessel likely wouldn’t be discussed until it is brought to shore and a survey — evaluating such things as whether the ship is sea-worthy or of any value — has been completed.

The Coast Guard seized the vessel Sept. 7, about 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, after receiving a report that the vessel was fishing illegally with a drift net. The crew initially claimed the ship was from Indonesia, but Francis said Indonesian officials denied that.

Authorities reported finding 30 tons of squid and 30 shark carcasses on board. They also found evidence of rats. State law prevents ships with rats from entering Alaska waters. The vessel was brought three miles off Dutch Harbor Sunday.

On Monday, the 22 crew members were removed and flown to Anchorage, where federal authorities planned to question them. Francis said rat eradication efforts have since gotten under way. Plans call for using traps and poison.

Begich, in his letter, said he’s concerned the eradication efforts won’t be totally effective. He outlined a number of steps that should be taken before “scuttling” the vessel, including providing public notice to the ship’s owner to reclaim it and pay any fines and expenses associated with its seizure.

He said fuel and other contaminants should be removed, along with as many rats as possible, and illegal driftnets and other debris should go down with the ship.

“The hulk should be towed far offshore, well beyond the rats’ ability to swim, and then the Coast Guard should open fire,” the Democrat wrote.

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