Ex-Soviet trawler flies NZ flag

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:31 07/03/2013

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One of the last ever Soviet Union fishing trawlers has become the first foreign charter vessel (FCVs) to be reflagged to New Zealand colours, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says.

The 24-year-old Ukrainian owned Mainstream has switched from Dominica's flag to New Zealand and now comes under new rules designed to prevent the abuse of foreign seamen on FCVs.

The reflagging comes after two years of campaigning against the slave like conditions on fishing boats by the University of Auckland Business School and Fairfax Media.

The campaign sparked a joint ministerial inquiry into FCVs that recommended reflagging. Parliament is considering a bill to make this law.

New Zealand companies - particularly Nelson-based Sealord - said the Ukrainian government, which owns the ships that are used here, would never allow re-flagging.

Sealord charters several large Ukrainian factory trawlers.

Mainstream was launched in 1989 as Pyotr Rubin at the Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolayev. As it was hitting the water, the Soviet Union was collapsing and Ukraine was becoming an independent nation.

Mainstream is built to a standard Soviet design and included gun-platforms and a strongroom for coding equipment. It and similar vessels were expected to also gather intelligence and take an undefined role in any war against the Western Alliance.

MNZ maritime standards general manager Sharyn Forsyth says the first re-flagging showed there was now an effective system in place to manage the complex requirements of the process.

By being registered as a New Zealand vessel, it comes under New Zealand labour and health and safety laws.

This requires that the ship and its safety systems meet New Zealand maritime rules. The crews have to pass an oral examination to assess competence and knowledge of New Zealand requirements.

The change also meant the New Zealander charter, Independent Fisheries of Christchurch, had the "whole possession and control of the ship, including the right to appoint its Master and crew".

"The first re-flagging shows the system is already place to allow companies to make New Zealand the flag-state for charter vessels and I expect more re-flagging in future," Forsyth said.

There are now 16 foreign charter fishing vessels operating year-round in New Zealand waters. An additional six vessels operate seasonally.

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