Seized boat costing ratepayers
Taxpayers are spending thousands of dollars to keep a rat and lice infested South Korean fishing boat docked in Dunedin as its owner effectively walks away from it.
Dunedin ratepayers though are doing well out of the Ministry of Primary Industry’s (MPI) seizure of the 47-year-old trawler Melilla 201 which has clocked up nearly $23,000 in berthage fees at Port Otago’s upper harbour wharf since March.
There are tens of thousands of dollars in other undisclosed charges, including keeping the ship in a clean and safe condition - and legal costs.
The ship has been one of the foreign charter vessels at the centre of extensive human rights and employment abuses highlighted over the last two years by the Sunday Star-Times and the University of Auckland Business School.
It is under arrest as its officers, who have left the country, face extensive illegal fishing charges that are before the Christchurch District Court.
Fishing industry sources told the Star-Times that at best the 2026 gross ton trawler could sell for $2 million, but the taxpayer faces months and perhaps years of berthage at $222 a day.
At the same time MPI appears to have let a much more modern trawler worth around US$8 million (NZ$10 million) Oyang 75, that it has a court ordered forfeiture get away – and is now seemingly beyond reach in the Indian Ocean.
Melilla 201, and its sister Melilla 203 which is docked in Dunedin under a civil seizure order, is owned by Taejin Fisheries Co Ltd of Busan and had been under charter to United Fisheries Ltd.
MPI has cancelled the fishing licences of both vessels.
Industry sources say that normally when fishing vessels are seized they are bonded back to the owners, but United had no interest as it cannot fish, and Taejin appears to have left the vessel, leaving the taxpayers to fund its berthage.
At one point it still had its Indonesian crew aboard but eyewitnesses say a bus pulled up alongside, and the crew were ordered off. They had 15 minutes to get off the ship. They were taken to Christchurch and flown home.
A civil case against Melilla 201 claims $4 million in unpaid and underpaid wages from the vessel. Successive crews claim they are owed around $70,000 each.
Sources say Melilla 201 was left in an appalling state with decomposing fish and meat, infestations of rats and cockroaches. As it had become a public health risk, particular from a lice infestation, a clean up crew was bought in to fumigate – on the taxpayer.
United would not comment on the situation and the MPI had not responded to how much it was costing.
Taejin, as in past instances, did not respond to emails. Both Melilla vessels have long rap-sheets over previous illegal fishing actions.
Meanwhile South Korea’s Sajo Oyang Corporation, which was a dominant player in the foreign charter market here, has pulled out its last ship, Oyang 77.
It is infamous for Oyang 70 which sank in 2010 off the Otago coast with the loss of six men.
Oyang 70 was replaced by Oyang 75 which earlier this year was heavily fined and ordered forfeited to the Crown over numerous environmental and maritime offences.
Although under a bond, it is now operating out of Mauritius where is has been accused of further illegal fishing.
Under international maritime law, MPI could have Oyang 75 seized in Port Louis and sailed back here for auction.