Police probe fishing firm's evidence to coroner

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012
Oyang 70
GONE: The Oyang 70.

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This article has had a clarification. Please see the bottom of this article

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Police will investigate documents provided to a coroner's inquest into the deaths of six men in the 2010 sinking of Korean fishing boat the Oyang 70.

Christchurch police confirmed they had been asked to investigate evidence lodged in the inquiry.

"That investigation will now commence."

The evidence relates to payments allegedly made to crew members, and includes bank transfers. They were part of an affidavit sworn by Oyang official Oh Gwan Yeol, who appeared before the coroner in April and gave the first public statement by a company official since the sinking.

Documents said to be bank statements showing transfers from a Korean to an Indonesian bank, and naming crewmen and giving bank accounts, were filed. But legal sources say Oh has applied through Nelson law firm Oceanlaw to retract the affidavit.

Some of the accounts did not exist, and others were controlled by Indonesian agents who did not pass the money on to crew members.

One form, a certificate of foreign currency transfer at the Shinhan Bank in Korea, could be filled in by anybody who visited the bank, and some numbers on the documents presented did not match.

Oceanlaw solicitor Justine Inns said the company was no "longer acting for Sajo Oyang or [its New Zealand charterer] Southern Storm Fishing in relation to the coroner's court hearing".

During the hearing, Craig Tuck, a lawyer for the family of one of the men who died, tried to cross-examine Oh on the payments, but after objections from a lawyer representing fishing interests, the coroner ruled the questions were outside the Coroner's Act.

A spokesman for coroner Richard McElrea said he was not contemplating reconvening the inquest "at this stage".

The same documents were used in a criminal case involving fish dumping by Oyang 75, and wage claims for Oyang 77, and a Ministry of Primary Industries spokesman said it had "laid a complaint with the Law Society over the actions of lawyers in the case against Oyang 75".

Oyang, its New Zealand charterer Southern Storm, the Korean Embassy and several other fishing companies, have always insisted the more than 2000 mainly Indonesian fishermen used were properly paid.

Two years of investigation by a team at Auckland University's Business School and by the Sunday Star-Times uncovered repeated instances of human rights and labour abuses on boats operating in New Zealand waters.

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Last year the Star-Times reported the Indonesian community stepped in and supplied food and clothing to 45 Oyang 75 crew being kept under guard by civilian security at a Christchurch motel, and on an Indonesian sailor who lost everything in the Oyang 70 disaster and was then defrauded of almost $8000, earned for more than a year's work.

That evidence led the Government to launch a ministerial inquiry, and earlier this year the Government announced foreign-flagged operations would end within four years.

Sources say the police investigation will extend beyond overseas companies and into New Zealand entities, and could damage the entire foreign charter fishing fleet, which hauls in $600 million a year of New Zealand fish.

CLARIFICATION

On 29 July 2012 the Sunday Star Times and the Fairfax Media-owned Stuff.co.nz website published an article, quoting a spokesperson for the Ministry for Primary Industries as saying that the Ministry had "laid a complaint with the Law Society over the actions of lawyers in the case against Oyang 75''.

Fairfax Media acknowledges that some readers could have assumed that the lawyers referred to were the Nelson-based firm, Oceanlaw New Zealand, which was named elsewhere in the article.

Fairfax Media is now satisfied that no such complaint was actually laid.

Fairfax Media acknowledges that the statement regarding the complaint could have led some readers to draw adverse inferences about the conduct of Oceanlaw New Zealand and its partners; and apologises to them for any confusion or adverse inferences resulting from publication of the statement.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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