Thailand Plays Catch and Release With Fishermen

Immigration authorities in Thailand on Monday released approximately 50 Cambodians who crossed into Thai waters while following a school of fish late Sunday afternoon.

“It might have been their mistake,” Hak Leng, the governor of Koh Kong province’s Mondol Seima district, said on Tuesday. “The fishermen just chased the group of fish without thinking of the marine border.”

Fishing boats docked at a port in Thailand's Samut Songkhram province in July. (Reuters)
Fishing boats docked at a port in Thailand’s Samut Songkhram province in July. (Reuters)

After being apprehended by the Thai coast guard, he said, the fishermen on 11 boats were passed along to immigration authorities, who put them up overnight and asked a Thai doctor to give them each a medical examination.

Koh Kong governor Bun Leut visited Thailand’s Trat province on Tuesday to negotiate the fishermen’s release. Thai authorities had not asked for any compensation, Mr. Leng said, adding that the marine boundary was poorly demarcated.

The fisherman “might have just gotten lost at night since they had no GPS,” he said.

There have been no previous incidents in the province of Cambodian fishermen being apprehended by Thai authorities or vice versa, he added. However, Cambodian police earlier this year apprehended seven Thai nationals hunting rats in Banteay Meanchey province and returned them shortly after with no fines.

In an unrelated incident, four Vietnamese nationals were released on Tuesday after they were caught fishing illegally on a protected lake in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district on Friday.

Lim Sokuntha, a prosecutor for the provincial court, said on Tuesday that he had recommended the two men and two women be charged with illegally crossing the border and illegal fishing, the latter of which carries a three-year prison sentence.

Investigating Judge Y Manoka declined to comment. Provincial court spokesman Tep Manin said the four had been released, but would not elaborate on the case.

“The investigating judge decided not to detain the four Vietnamese citizens and allowed them to return home this afternoon,” he said.

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