Crew aid foreign fishing boats probe

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2012
Oyang 77
STRANGE VOYAGE: The Oyang 77.

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A Korean fishing boat is under High Court arrest over claims its owners owe $2.335 million in unpaid wages over two years.

Agents for 36-year-old foreign charter vessel (FCV) Oyang 77 tried before dawn on March 3 to get its crew on a Singapore Airlines plane from Christchurch but Ministry of Fisheries enforcement officers intercepted them.

Six agreed to help in official "investigations into whether the Oyang 77 has breached fisheries regulations" and have been kept in hiding in Christchurch.

Industry sources told the Sunday Star-Times that conditions are so appalling on Oyang 77 that six Korean officers tried to leave. Oyang fishes iwi quota in a charter operated by Southern Storm Ltd, a shell company for Korea's Sajo Oyang Corporation.

On March 1 a ministerial inquiry warned Korean FCVs mistreated crews and damaged New Zealand's international reputation. It made a series of recommendations for tighter control.

Oyang 77, one of 13 Korean-flagged ships out of a 21-strong FCV fleet, has become the cause celebre for campaigners fighting the slave-like conditions aboard the boats first exposed a year ago by the Star-Times. Last month it was refused a licence to fish here.

Already held under a High Court warrant over $160,000 in damages to Talley's Fisheries, Oyang 77 moved on March 3 to get its crew out. Tauranga lawyer Craig Tuck, founder of Slave Free Seas group, says Southern Storm threatened the crews and said if they did not go they would not get bonuses of around $4000.

They were told agents in Indonesia would make their lives even harder. "It was very threatening and the men felt very intimidated," he said.

On Monday, Tuck, acting for 26 crewmen, obtained a High Court arrest warrant over Oyang for the unpaid wages. Southern Storm, in a press release, denied any wages were owed.

While New Zealand authorities have been indifferent in the past to the plight of FCV crews and unwilling to enforce a code of conduct, that changed last week.

After the fishermen cleared Customs and were heading to the departure gate, Fisheries enforcement reached them. Men were asked to stay back to help with investigations against the owners of the Oyang 77. Allegations include illegal dumping and high grading of fish in the exclusive economic zone, as well as trucking, which means quota is illegally moved from one area to another.

"A small number of Oyang 77 crew members have chosen to stay in New Zealand and are assisting with these investigations," Fisheries deputy director-general Scott Gallacher said.

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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 aboard.

Another FCV, Mellila 201, which is owned by Taejin Fishieries of Korea, and chartered by United Fisheries in Christchurch, remains under arrest at the insistence of the crew, with claims of $1.8m owed in salaries.

- Sunday Star Times

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