Fish-dumping trawler likely to be seized
New Zealand could end up owning a controversial South Korean fishing boat after a court judgment.
At stake is the Oyang 75, a 68-metre stern trawler worth about $9 million that was involved in fisheries and environmental offences.
The owners were found guilty of the largest case of fish dumping prosecuted in New Zealand, with the finding at the hearing that 355 tonnes of fish had been discarded.
Legal processes were complex, with four of the South Korean officers refusing to return to New Zealand for trial.
The trawler was arrested in 2012 and officers were accused of dumping low-value catch to replace it with fish that was more worthwhile.
In the Christchurch District Court, Judge David Saunders fined four South Korean officers more than $420,000 for trawling activities described in court as "arrogant" and "incompetent".
He found that the officers ruled the Indonesian crew "with an iron fist". One officer, factory manager Tae Won Jo, has asked for special consideration before the sentencing.
The Oyang 75 owners were later heavily fined for dumping waste at sea after inspectors found the boat had hidden piping controlled by a secret switch that allowed it to secretly dump bilge, including oil, into the sea unnoticed.
In the two cases, Sajo Oyang and Southern Storm did not take part in the court process, but after the forfeiture was raised, they sought to be heard by the court.
The district court declined their application and it ended up in the Court of Appeal.
In a decision this week, the three-man panel said the district court was correct to deny Sajo Oyang party status.
The ship was allowed to leave New Zealand and has since operated out of the Seychelles. Ship-tracking websites show it is now in the South Atlantic.
A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman said the forfeiture would not yet be enforced, as aspects of the case were still before the courts. The ministry knew where the ship was, he said.
The judgment says forfeiture had a "long history in New Zealand fisheries legislation".
From 1908, the law "provided that ships, boats and other property used in any unlawful fishing were forfeited to the Crown and were to be disposed of as the minister [of fisheries] thought fit".
The Oyang 75, which had an Indonesia crew, and fished under charter for Lyttelton's Southern Storm Fishing Ltd, was brought to New Zealand by Sajo Oyang in South Korea to replace the Oyang 70, which sank in 2010 off Otago with the loss of six men.
At the time, Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood, better known for his advocacy of Japanese whaling, invited media aboard the Oyang 75, saying it was a model of modern fishing.
The Ministry of Fisheries at the time placed four officers aboard to "upskill to be more effective managers of New Zealand's world-class quota management system", Inwood said.