Activists search for tuna boats with helicopter

By the Associated Press | June 13, 2011 | 1:59 AM EDT

In this photo provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, pilot Chris Aultman prepares to take off, from aboard The Steve Irwin - a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society boat, on a reconnaissance flight to check out fishing boats in the area, in the Mediterranean , Sunday, June 12, 2011. The helicopter lifted gingerly off the aft deck of the ship, banked sharply, then sped off a few hundred feet above the Mediterranean whitecaps in search of boats fishing illegally for bluefin tuna, potential targets for activists determined to do what they can to preserve the species. (AP Photo/Michelle McCarron, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

ABOARD THE STEVE IRWIN (AP) — A shipload of conservation activists is cruising 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Libyan coast looking for boats illegally fishing for bluefin tuna. Five NATO warships are visible on the horizon.

Overnight, the Steve Irwin, owned by the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, approached to within 21 miles (34 kilometers) of Libya. But because of the arms embargo it is enforcing, NATO told the Irwin to stay at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) offshore. A sister ship, the smaller, faster Brigitte Bardot, will scout ahead Monday for tuna boats.

Experts say the stock of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is in danger of collapse. The activists want to identify illegal fishing boats and send divers into the water to cut the nets and free the fish.

Tuna bring high prices on the Japanese market.