Repairs near end on ship that came close to disaster
The Russian-flagged longliner Sparta, at Port Nelson since April 3, has been ice-strengthened and refitted and will meet all requirements for the coming Antarctic toothfish season, its agent said today.
The Sparta came close to catastrophe just before Christmas last year when it was holed by submerged ice while longlining for toothfish in the Ross Sea.
Its 32-member Russian and Indonesian crew members were stuck for 12 days until temporary repairs could be made and the South Korean icebreaker, Araon, could open a lane through the ice and escort the Sparta into open water.
The near-disaster, along with a fatal fire aboard a Korean fishing boat in the same area on January 11 and the sinking of a third ship a year earlier, have fuelled calls for a ban on fishing in the Ross Sea.
Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes has said the area's pristine environment is put at risk by "old, single-hulled unsuitable fishing boats . . . that race to catch as much as they can despite the weather".
Pegasus Shipping owner Mike Newton said the 48-metre Sparta had already passed New Zealand ship survey requirements and only some painting and other small jobs remained before it was ready to sail. It would be fishing under the rules of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a body comprising the countries that fish legally in the Ross Sea.
As well as ice-strengthening, the Sparta has undergone repairs to its main engines and generators and a range of other work has been carried out, principally by Nelson engineering firm Aimex Service Group. "She's old, but she's a good reliable vessel and they've done a lot of work on her. She's 100 per cent ready to go to the Ice."
During its stay the Sparta was tied up for several months near the Amaltal base off Akersten St before a stint on the Calwell Slip. It's now at Kingsford Quay opposite Sealord.
A 10-member skeleton crew has lived on board since April and Mr Newton said its members had been treated extremely well by the Nelson community.
The Sparta is operated by Sedna Industries, based in San Diego, California. One of its owners, Andrey Kulish, has been in Nelson for much of the time it has been tied up, but has not responded to requests for an interview.
Two Nelson-based longliners, the Janas and the Antarctic Chieftain, are also readying for the toothfish season. The two boats fish for New Zealand Longline, a joint venture between Sealord and Talley's.
For the year starting in December 2011, 29 ships from nine countries were licensed to catch toothfish in waters covered by the convention, including seven New Zealand vessels.
CCAMLR maintains that the toothfish catch is sustainable, but catching the large, valuable fish is under increasing attack, not only because of the risk of pollution from a marine disaster but also for the impact the fishing has on one of the world's few remaining almost-untouched ecosystems.
The Last Ocean, a documentary made by Peter Young and screened around New Zealand this year, has engendered more support for making the entire Ross Sea a marine protected area.
Countering that, the fishing industry says the annual total toothfish harvest by CCAMLR members is less than 3 per cent of the total biomass of toothfish in the Ross Sea, and the fishing takes place in less than 3 per cent of the total Ross Sea area.
Sanford managing director Eric Barratt surprised environmentalists this week by saying that the listed New Zealand company would consider pulling out of the Ross Sea if compensated with "a very large sum", prompting Greenpeace to respond that the fishing industry didn't own the Ross Sea and it was no-one's responsibility to buy it back.
Port Nelson lists the Sparta as due to sail on November 15.
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