Publication Details

Gullett, W, Prompt release procedures and the challenge for fisheries law enforcement: the judgement of the international tribunal for the law of the sea in the Volga case (Russian Federation v Australia), Federal Law Review, 31, 2003, 395-407.


On 23 December 2002, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ('ITLOS') ordered the prompt release of the Russian 1ongline fishing vessel Volga, at the time detained by Australian authorities in Fremantle, upon the posting of a bond or other security of A$l 920 000. The Volga was arrested for allegedly fishing without authorisation by a boarding party from the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Canberra in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone ('EEZ') surrounding Heard and McDonald Islands in the Southern Ocean on 7 Februarv 2002. At issue in the ITLOS proceedings was not whether the activities of the Vo1ga failed to comply with Australian fisheries law, but rather whether the financial security and other requirements, which Australia set as the conditions for release of the vessel, breached Australia's obligation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ('LOSC') to allow the prompt release of detained vessels upon the posting of a 'reasonable bond or other security'. Although the question of what amounts to a 'reasonable' bond has been considered by ITLOS on previous occasions, in each case the dispute centred on the reasonableness of the methods used by the detaining state to set the required financial security; such as how the detained vessel, catch and gear were valued and how the maximum possible fines available under domestic law were determined. The important aspect of the proceedings in The 'Volga' Case was that it was the first time the Tribunal had been asked to consider whether additional non-financial conditions could be set for the release of a detained vessel. It was also the first time Australia had appeared before ITLOS as a respondent. The decision rendered by ITLOS is instructive not only for Australia's future conduct in handling foreign fishing vessels detained for alleged illegal fishing in Australian waters, but also for other coastal countries which face continual pressure from various forms of illegal foreign fishing.

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