Action on fishing abuse escalates

WARNINGS: The Oyang 77 moored off Sumner.
WARNINGS: The Oyang 77 moored off Sumner.

A Korean fishing company expelled Indonesian and Filipino crew of a 36-year-old unlicensed fishing ship and got them out of New Zealand early yesterday without paying them around $2 million in wages they were owed for the past two years.

Oyang 77's actions came two days after a ministerial inquiry warned that Korean foreign charter fishing vessels (FCVs) owners mistreated crews and damaged New Zealand's international reputation.

Korea's distant-water fishing fleet – a total of 220 vessels – has produced a tidal wave of reports into corruption, abuse and plunder from the coast of Sierra Leone, to Kiribati and down into the Southern Ocean.

Legal and industry sources say investigations are shortly to be launched by police and the Serious Fraud Office over alleged Crimes Acts offences in connection with Korean FCVs, involving missing multimillion-dollar sums owed to Inland Revenue, the Ministry of Fisheries and crews.

On Thursday, Oyang 77, under High Court arrest, tried to move into international waters but turned back to Lyttelton in the mistaken belief the Royal New Zealand Navy was chasing it.

Yesterday morning Oyang docked in Lyttelton and told the crew they were discharged and would be taken straight to the airport. The boat is chartered by Christchurch's Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Ltd, a shell company holding the interests of Korea's Sajo Oyang Corporation.

Twenty Indonesians and two Filipinos were each given around $4000 as a cash bonus – their total payment for two years' continual work – but they did not get between $40,000 and $60,000 in wages they claim are owed to them under the New Zealand minimum wage law.

Last week the Ministry of Fisheries refused Oyang 77 a licence to fish "because of concerns about this vessel's ability to comply with New Zealand fisheries regulations".

Oyang 77 is a sister ship to Oyang 70 which sank off Otago two years ago, killing six, and of Oyang 75, whose crew walked off in Lyttelton in protest at inhumane conditions.

Christchurch's Anglican Care minister, Jolyon White, says that even as the ink was drying on the ministerial report, Southern Storm Fishing was "shunting another crew out of the country before they can be witnesses in their own minimum wages claim".

He said they tried the same trick with the Oyang 75 crew, but Anglican Care provided support and the crewmen were still here, battling for their wages. "It is time to stop abusing, not paying, then sending away fishing crews in New Zealand waters," he said.

Oyang has made no comment about the latest events but a shipping agent who acts for them emailed to say our information was "a load of complete and utter lies".

Authorities say the offending companies are all secretive Korean corporations backed by the Seoul government, which is demanding unfettered access to New Zealand's exclusive economic zone in exchange for a free trade pact.

Maritime lawyer Peter Dawson has long experience of dealing with Korean boats, particularly in South Africa a decade ago, when it was found that Dongwon vessels were using fraudulent documents to fish there. "They are known internationally as dodgy operators, and yet New Zealand allows them here," he says.

Korean companies had no scruples about plundering fisheries anywhere. "They don't have any form of stewardship of the resources they have access to."

Acting for Nelson's Talley's Fisheries, Dawson won the High Court arrest of Oyang 77 over an incident last year when it collided with the net of a Talley's boat. Talley's wants $160,000 in damages.

Dawson said what was astonishing in all his dealings with Korean owners was that they never showed up in court or in the legal process. They always left it to the charterers to do it.

He said he hates going aboard Korean boats because he wants to throw up. "They are filthy, they are appallingly run, they are dirty, horrid, disgusting vessels and that is why the observers don't want to go on them."

The government has ordered Ministry of Fisheries observers – who are paid between $226.91 and $302.54 per day at sea – on to all FCVs, including 13 under Korean flag. University of Auckland Business School researcher Glenn Simmons, whose report last year exposed the worst excesses on FCVs, says the way the Oyang 77 crew was treated yesterday reflected the way Koreans viewed their crews – "cheap and disposable labour".

He said it was important New Zealand authorities now worked to hold people accountable for serious criminal offences which the ministerial report says did occur on some FCVs.

If New Zealand lacked the skills, because of the complexity of the issues, then it should seek international help.

Sunday Star Times