Maritime NZ has a 'moral obligation' to act over old boats going to Pacific, industry says

A Tongan crew member of a fishing boat bought from Greymouth was one of six who had to be rescued when the vessel got ...
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A Tongan crew member of a fishing boat bought from Greymouth was one of six who had to be rescued when the vessel got into trouble.

Maritime NZ is failing in its "moral obligation" to ensure old fishing boats leaving our ports are safe, industry groups say.

Stuff revealed last week how Tongans have been buying up old fishing trawlers with Government loans, re-flagging them, and sailing them home with no inspections by New Zealand authorities.

Some have broken down and one was later abandoned at sea after a dramatic rescue, leaving the uninsured owner with no way of paying back his loan.

Annabel Young of the NZ Shipping Federation says Maritime NZ has a moral obligation to ensure vessels going to the ...

Annabel Young of the NZ Shipping Federation says Maritime NZ has a moral obligation to ensure vessels going to the Pacific Islands are safe.

Most of the boats are not surveyed for international waters and it's feared lives will be lost if authorities don't take action. New Zealand's area of responsibility for search and rescue extends to Tonga.

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Tonga's marine department says New Zealand should be inspecting the boats but Maritime NZ says once a vessel is re-flagged it's no longer its responsibility. 

Labour transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney is concerned about a lack of inspections by Maritime NZ.

Labour transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney is concerned about a lack of inspections by Maritime NZ.

Commercial boats under 24m don't have to be registered and there is no requirement for Maritime NZ to be notified when they re-flag. 

"We are very concerned about safety and we urge people to notify us in these cases. If we receive sufficient notice a maritime officer can inspect and detain the vessel if necessary," a Maritime NZ spokesman said.

But former National MP Annabel Young, executive director of coastal shipping lobby group the NZ Shipping Federation, said Maritime NZ needed to be proactive.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

"If there's a game going on where fishing boats are being sold, re-flagged...doesn't that tell you that Maritime NZ ought to be paying more attention?" she said.

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"They seem to have a blind spot on this."

She said it was a concern of the sector that commercial fishing vessels did not carry their fair share of the maritime levy yet were at most risk of accidents.

"This issue is about people drowning, I would have thought there's a moral obligation to pay some attention to it and work out what can be done in New Zealand to keep people safe."

Doug Saunders-Loder, president of the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, said it was good to help Pacific countries develop their fishing, "but we don't want to be sending the wrong kind of boats and if there's a loophole there we should be helping Maritime NZ fix it".

Former Maritime NZ chief executive Russell Kilvington said while the flag state had responsibility for a vessel, he agreed New Zealand had a moral obligation.

"Maritime NZ has been dumbed-down in terms of its skills and attitude towards intervention," he said.

"I would have said 'we've got to find a way of doing something and get out there and stop this', but I don't think they have the will to do that, it's 'well it's not our jurisdiction, not our problem'."

Nelson boat broker Steve Thomas said sales of fishing vessels to Pacific Island nations should be halted immediately until a rule is introduced requiring all vessels under 15m leaving New Zealand waters have to pass a Maritime NZ safety inspection. 

Labour's transport spokeswoman, Sue Moroney, said Labour would require Maritime NZ to implement a system that allowed it to inspect commercial boats going offshore.

"It should be an immediate flag. If we've got domestic vessels that have been re-flagged, particularly to Pacific Island nations, that immediately gives Maritime NZ the authority to do a port state inspection, they should be doing that as a matter of course.

"It's our reputation that's on the line...never mind all the other ethical issues that go alongside it.

"If they haven't got a system in place to do that then they need to get one."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges refused to be interviewed, a spokesman saying it was an "operational matter" for Maritime NZ.

 - Sunday Star Times

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