The two captains and 16 crewmen, however, have been released while the investigation continues, police confirmed to The Phuket News today (May 23).
The Sang Samut 3 and its sister fishing boat the Sang Samut 2 were seized by Royal Thai Navy officers at the Seang Arun Pier in Rassada last Saturday.
The captain of the Sang Samut 3, Somsamai Meejom, was immediately escorted to Chalong Police Station for questioning. (See story here.)
Chalong Police are investigating a formal complaint filed by officers from the Phuket office of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), who accuse the Sang Samut 3 of breaching Section 66 of the Fisheries Act 2015 and Section 16 of the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, B.E. 2535 (1992).
Breach of Section 66 of the Fisheries Act incurs a fine of between B300,000 and B3 million, “or to a fine of five times the value of the aquatic animals caught or brought on board a fishing vessel concerned. In whichever case, the higher fine shall apply.” Breach of Section 16 incurs a penalty of up to four years in jail, or a fine of up to B40,000, or both.
The complaint, filed by DMCR officer Narat Choophueng, was formally received by Chalong Police Deputy Superintendent Lt Col Somsak Sopakarn. The complaint followed a video posted online last Friday showing the whale shark strung up going viral last weekend. (See here.)
“Both boats are not permitted to leave port while this investigation continues,” Col Somsak told The Phuket News today.
In response to the accusations, Sang Samut 3 Captain Mr Somsamai told The Phuket News this afternoon, “I didn’t want to catch the whale shark. It was struck in our net and I could not see what it was until we brought the net up and dropped it on deck.
“When we realised what it was, we helped it. It was just an accident,” he added.
A search for the whale was launched last Saturday in the hope of finding it, dead or alive. If dead, in order to determine the cause of death; if alive, in order to render assistance.
The search, which included asking passing tour boats and fishing vessels, was to continue for five days, concluding today.
However, at last report no trace of the whale shark was found.
In Phuket in person over the incident, DMCR Director-General Jatuporn Buruspat told The Phuket News, “We are very concerned about Thailand’s marine life after finding out about the whale shark caught off Phuket. This is disgusting behaviour.
“We will keep looking for this whale shark as we have yet to find any trace of it. If we can’t find the whale shark floating in the sea in next five days we will presume it is still alive.”
Debate has continued online as to whether the search is pointless.
It has been pointed out to The Phuket News that the California Department of Fish And Wildlife notes, “Members of the public who come across a live stranded shark should NOT to try to push it back out into the ocean. The vast majority (99.9%) of sharks that strand are sick and dying. When these fish are pushed back into the water, they often simply die and disappear.
“Sharks do not have a swim bladder or lungs, and will not float on the surface after death. The loss of the carcass makes it difficult for biologists to get an accurate count and obviously negates determining cause of death.” (See here.)
Meanwhile, other people disagree, saying that if the whale shark had died gasses that would build up in the body would keep the whale shark afloat.