Fishing boat crew abuse investigated

Government investigators have raided a Korean foreign charter fishing boat in Timaru after allegations its Indonesian crew were being forced to work long hours and were not paid the minimum wage.

Of the crew, 21 said they were walking off Sur Este 707 while six more have elected to stay.

Nelson lawyer Peter Dawson confirmed he was acting for the crew, but said he was surprised by the government investigation.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investigators yesterday raided the fishing vessel Sur Este 707, which is currently docked in Timaru.

In a statement they said their investigation followed information provided by a government fishery observer who noted possible issues with vessel safety, excessive hours of crew work and falsification of crew time records.

Officers from Immigration New Zealand, the Labour Inspectorate and representatives from other agencies, including the police and Maritime New Zealand visited the vessel in a coordinated operation.

MNZ took immediate steps to ensure the vessel’s future safe operation.

Sur Este is chartered by the New Zealand company South East Resources (2001) Ltd. It operates three Korean charters, Sur Este 700, 707 and 709.

Its registered offices are an accountancy firm in Christchurch while its shareholder is listed as Murray Williamson and his wife.

The boats are owned by Dong Nam Company Ltd of South Korea.

Fishing industry sources have expressed surprise that the Sur Este boats appear to have been targeted in a new ministry crackdown following the appointment of a new minister, Nathan Guy.

There are ongoing issues over other foreign charter fishing boats still operating in New Zealand.

Early last year the government announced a ministerial inquiry into foreign charter fishing boats after a series of investigations by Fairfax Media and the University of Auckland Business School in the slave-like labour conditions on the 20 or vessels involved.

These included a number of Oyang fishing boats from Korea, including the Oyang 70, which sank off the Otago coast two years ago with the loss of six men.

In the case of Sur Este 707 there are no allegations of physical abuse, as occurred on the Oyang boats, but of under-payments and long hours.

The university’s Glenn Simmons said the action by the government was unexpected, but welcome.

“It is refreshing to see that the government, after 20 years of this, is finally doing something.”

Immigration manager Steve Stuart said agencies were alerted to the situation as a result of more effective information sharing between agencies following the inquiry.

 “We take these allegations very seriously and we’ve coordinated our activities with other agencies to make sure they are fully investigated,” Stuart said.