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VIDEO: Sinking the evidence

For months, two ships from the environmental activist group Sea Shepherd shadowed a rogue commercial vessel suspected of engaging in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing of vulnerable Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean sea bass) in the Southern Ocean.

On Monday, the alleged poaching vessel, Thunder, sank inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sao Tome, an island nation off Nigeria.

The Sea Shepherd crews rescued the crew of 40, including the captain, officers and deck crew, who were able to disembark to life rafts from the Thunder before it sank.

So why did the captain leave all doors and hatches open on his sinking ship and then applaud the vessel as it headed for the bottom?

Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker, said the Thunder was clearly scuttled to hide any evidence of illegal fishing.

“When my chief engineer boarded the Thunder in the hours leading up to the sinking, he was able to confirm that there were clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled,” he said in a statement from the group.

“Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done — doors and hatches were tied open and the fish hold was opened. It is an incredibly suspicious situation, to say the least.”

A second video from Sea Shepherd offers more insight from skipper Hammarstedt and additional views of the vessel slipping beneath the surface.