Storm brews over fishing firm's make-over

Controversial: The Shin Ji moored in Auckland last May.
Controversial: The Shin Ji moored in Auckland last May.

A South Korean  company linked to abuse on fishing boats in New Zealand waters has used family trusts and name changes to disguise its corporate structure.

Documents reveal that, on the day six men died when the Oyang 70 sank, the Oyang Corporation got out of its registered front company.

Around 2000 men work on 27 mostly-old foreign vessels which fish Maori quota. The Sunday Star-Times has revealed abuse on some of the boats, and recently crews from the Oyang 75 in Lyttelton, and the Shin Ji in Auckland, walked off over their alleged treatment. Oyang is part of the giant Seoul-based Sajo Fishing Corp, which is now showing signs that adverse publicity is changing its behaviour. Its boats are charted by Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Ltd, with Christchurch's Hyun Gwan Choi holding all 1000 shares when it was formed that year.

In July last year, Oyang Corp took 450 shares, but 28 days later the Oyang 70 sank. At 4pm, as boats searched for survivors, the shares moved back to Choi.

Two months ago, the Indonesian crew of Shin Ji, which fishes for eel for New Plymouth's Ngati Tama, walked off. It was chartered by Tu'ere Fishing Ltd, owned by Ngati Tama, and Alpine South Fishing Ltd, also owned by Choi. An email from Oyang's "chief of New Zealand base" Kyung-so Moon, detailed the strategy.

"We took the step of reducing the result of [the] problem in relation to the business of Oyang and Southern Storm in Tu'ere," it said.

"Hyun Choi sold the stake of Southern Storm in his family trust. The stake was shared and transferred to the wife's maiden name. Additionally, Hyun Choi withdraws its place as the director of his company; his wife's maiden name will take over the position." The Companies Office now lists the new director as Soon Oh.

The email said the moves put distance between the ships and Oyang.

"Southern Storm is not related anymore, Mr Choi could insist he is not an owner. This is the best way to be done in the short-term," Moon wrote. Meanwhile, another document reveals Oyang president Il Sik Kim has written to Indonesian labour agents, who make fishermen sign over property titles as a surety for good behaviour on the boats, telling them not to act against returning crew.

"Oyang strongly desires your and other crew agent companies do not take steps to subject these ex-crew members to any type of penalty on their return home," Kim wrote.

"If crew agents do take steps, this will have serious implications for Sajo Oyang's business in New Zealand and may force Sajo Oyang to look for alternative sources of crew in the future."

Sunday Star Times