Five men detained after a 7,000km (4,350 mile), 21-day chase across three oceans have been found not guilty of poaching rare fish in Australia.
Australia’s fisheries minister has said he is amazed at the verdict, which follows the most expensive maritime chase in the country’s history.
The verdict ends the second trial of the men after an earlier jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
The men were caught in 2003 with 97 metric tons of Patagonian toothfish.
But the second jury found them not guilty, apparently on the grounds that their vessel, the Viarsa, did not have fishing gear in the water when it was finally caught.
“At the end of the day [the prosecution] just didn’t have the evidence,” said defence lawyer Mark Trowell, adding that the fishermen were looking forward to being reunited with their families after two years in detention.
The men were arrested in August of 2003 after Australian coastguards spotted their Uruguayan boat in the Southern Ocean.
They all pleaded not guilty to charges of using a foreign vessel for commercial fishing in Australian waters.
The accused originate from Chile, Uruguay and Spain.
The Patagonian toothfish – also known as Chilean sea bass – is prized as a delicacy for its tender white flesh.
Some experts fear it is being overfished, threatening the future of the species.
Image:: Australian Antarctic Division.