Trust says boat crew owed $1m in wages

Another Korean-owned fishing vessel berthed at Lyttelton has been embroiled in claims of unpaid wages and human rights abuses of its crew.

Slave Free Seas, a charitable trust set up to help crew on foreign-owned fishing vessels in New Zealand, has filed papers at the High Court in Christchurch alleging the 35 Indonesian crew of the Melilla 201 are owed more than $1 million in wages, which it says they are entitled to under New Zealand law.

Lawyer and Slave Free Seas spokesman Craig Tuck said crew had also complained about verbal abuse and general ill-treatment from Korean officers.

The vessel, which had been in the dry dock at Lyttelton undergoing maintenance for two months, would be taken into the custody of the courts, preventing it from leaving the port, Tuck said.

It is the second time the trust has taken this action against a vessel owned by the Korean Tae Jin Fishing Co.

In December last year it moved against the Melilla 203, after its 27-man crew alleged short payment, poor conditions and abuse.

Tuck said the Melilla 201 was one of a long list of vessels the trust was interested in because of covert ownership arrangements and attempts to avoid compliance with New Zealand law.

Twelve of the Melilla 201 crew have returned home, because they have had enough of the conditions and the rest were still on the ship, Tuck said.

He said the vessel, like its sister ship Melilla 203, was chartered by United Fisheries.

United Fisheries chief executive Andre Kotzikas could not be reached for comment.

The issue of conditions on foreign-owned fishing vessels working in New Zealand waters first came to light in June last year when a 32-man crew from Indonesia walked off their vessel, Oyang 75, protesting about their treatment and wages.