Families of fishing crew face backlash

The Oyang 75 is under investigation by the Ministry of Fisheries.
The Oyang 75 is under investigation by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Poverty-stricken Indonesian families of 32 men refusing to crew a Lyttelton-based Korean fishing boat have been summoned to Jakarta tomorrow to face agents who hired the crew on slave wage rates.

The crew of the Oyang 75 walked off three weeks ago claiming they were severely abused, prompting the vessel's charterer, Southern Storm Fishing, and agent, Pete Dawson Fisheries Consultancy, to seek deportation orders.

But the crew have refused to go until properly paid.

"What the crews' families have been told is that they have to come to Jakarta [tomorrow] because their husbands and men are in trouble in New Zealand. It is a common way to terrorise crews," a source close to the crew said.

"This is a very scary experience for these people, they cannot do anything. They have no power. They are very poor."

The Sunday Star-Times is aware of families involved in other Korean boats who have been explicitly threatened by agents.

Immigration department head Nigel Bickle said there were concerns about the family threats "and we are making contact with one of the agents to seek their comment".

The 26-year-old stern trawler Oyang 75 replaced the 38-year-old Oyang 70 which sank off Otago last year with the loss of six lives.

After the crew walked off, the Oyang 75 left Lyttelton and moored in international waters.

On Friday the Ministry of Fisheries ordered it to port for an inspection but refused to comment so as not to compromise investigations.

"We recognise the high public interest in this issue, but are working with other agencies to ensure that official investigations are carried out in a rigorous and robust manner," a spokesman said.

The 32 crew staying in Christchurch heard last week that two of the three agent companies were demanding their families make the 10 to 15-hour bus trip to Jakarta.

"They are mostly women, they are mostly from small villages and towns," the source said. "The men say they are really scared but they cannot stand any more abuse, the long hours and the assaults, it is something they refuse to do."

They have filed affidavits with Immigration, Maritime New Zealand, the police and the Indonesian Embassy stating they have been assaulted, sexually harassed, abused, intimidated, underpaid and overworked.

Bickle said Immigration had spent considerable time investigating the Oyang 75.

He could not put a timetable on the audit but a first stage conclusion would go to Southern Storm Fishing, the ship's charterer, next week for its comments.

Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood yesterday accused media of an inability "to distinguish between separate entities or agents and who is acting for whom". The agents in Indonesia were crew agents, not agents of Oyang or Southern Storm.

"Given the current industrial dispute in which the crew are involved, it is not surprising that the crews' agents would wish to visit the crews' families."

TRADE WARNING

A fishing company spokesman has warned that ongoing investigations by the Sunday Star-Times into slavery at sea "may soon have an impact" on negotiations between Wellington and Seoul for a free trade agreement (FTA).

A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade source confirmed that Korea had tabled a demand, as part of the negotiations, for open access to New Zealand fishing grounds, now subject to tightly controlled New Zealander-only quota arrangements.
The official said such claims were common in the early stages of negotiations and New Zealand had so far said no, saying FTAs should be restricted to tariff and border issues.

Korea imposes tariffs of up to 33% on New Zealand fish, unless it is caught by Korean boats such as the Oyang 75, in which case they are tariff-free. An official at the Korean Embassy in Wellington, Tony Sung, said Korea should be kept out of the media.

"We hope that in any context neither the Korean embassy nor the Korean government will be referred to in any article about these issues and we wish such hopes will be respected by you," Sung wrote.

"From now on, any further correspondence from you on these issues will not be acknowledged or responded to."

Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood, in a letter to the Sunday Star-Times, said Oyang vessels had a long history of involvement in New Zealand and their officers and crew and representatives had never been prosecuted by the Ministry of Fisheries or its predecessors. He said this was a "rare accomplishment".

In Nelson District Court last year Judge B P Dwyer convicted the now sunken Oyang 70's charterer, Southern Storm, for discharging light fuel oil into Nelson harbour.

michael.field@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Sunday Star Times