Air New Zealand flew shark fins

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 18:59 23/05/2013

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Air New Zealand has admitted it flew shark fin air cargo to Asia but says it has suspended the practice.

A Hong Kong environmental group say Air New Zealand was doing it earlier this month but only stopped when they witnessed an international uproar around Air Pacific last week.

Environmental groups in Hong Kong revealed last week that Air Pacific - to be rebranded next week as Fiji Air - was flying shark fin cargo from Fiji to Asia as a way of paying for their three new A330 aircraft.

Fiji Air, which operates into Auckland, said they would investigate the claim but spokesman Shane Hussein will no longer comment on the allegations also carried by the South China Morning Post.

"The article grossly over exaggerates the situation and is thus misleading," Hussein said.

"To describe our A330 as a 'thinly-veiled freighter' is totally inaccurate."

Hong Kong's Cathy Pacific last year announced a ban on shark fin cargoes.

Social media in Fiji last week claimed that Air New Zealand as well as Fiji Air was picking up the lucrative cargo which appears to reach Auckland from the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa.

In response to an initial inquiry, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman would only say "Air New Zealand does not currently carry shark fin".

Asked if it had in the past and would in the future, she said they had "carried shark fin in the past, but has suspended the practice."

Hong Kong is the world centre for shark fin trading - which is used to make an expensive soup - which is leading to devastation of shark species.

Alex Hofford of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation told Fairfax Air New Zealand stopped shipping shark fin soon after the Air Pacific story broke.

"We are obviously delighted about that."

He noted that Air Pacific had not responded to their complaint.

"But it is likely that Air New Zealand have seen the online petition and media storm surrounding Air Pacific, and have probably thought to themselves that they do not want that storm of negative publicity coming their way, so have immediately stopped shipping shark fin whilst they review their operations," he said.

His organisation was still investigating other airlines flying into Hong Kong, including Qantas and Air France.

Air Pacific had been an obvious airline because the Hong Kong Government had released facts and figures on its shark cargoes.

SCMP said suspicions were raised in March by a speech given by Hong Kong Secretary for Transport Anthony Cheung Bing-leung in March at a welcoming reception for a new Airbus A330 on the airline's Hong Kong route.

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"There were only 45 tonnes of cargo being carried between Hong Kong and Fiji in 2009. By the end of last year, the cargo volume was close to 1,000 tonnes," he said in what the publication said was a reference to shark fins.

"Thanks to the close aviation links, we in Hong Kong can now enjoy various kinds of seafood products from the South Pacific as Fiji is one of the major exporters of fish and fishery products to Hong Kong."

- Stuff

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