Fiji police investigate high seas shooting video
MICHAEL FIELD AND FAIRFAX
A cellphone left behind in a Suva taxi by an Asian fishing boat crewman is at the heart of a horrific video showing the killing of four castaways on the high-seas.
Whether the dead men are Fijian, stateless Rohingyas from Burma or Somalians, is still unresolved.
Nor is it known who killed them or why.
Official data has identified a tuna boat seen nearby as the men were killed in the water.
But the Taiwan flagged Chun I No 217 has not switched on its vessel monitoring system (VMS) device for three months and its whereabouts is unknown, monitoring sources told Fairfax Media.
High seas fishing boats are legally allowed to turn off VMS to keep a competitive advantage.
Up until last year Chun I No 217 was registered to catch southern blue fin tuna in waters around New Zealand and south of Australia.
Its registered owners in Kaohsiung City in Taiwan have not answered supplied telephone numbers on various registration documents linked to the vessel in the Pacific, Tasman and Indian Ocean regions.
There is no evidence the 725 ton Chun I No 217 was involved in the incident and it was only identified by one of its registration numbers, issued by the Seychelles, along its hull as it steered away from the ship where the shooting was occurring.
In the video the only clue to its identity is a sign over a hatch saying, in Mandarin, "Safety is number one".
Yesterday the 10 minute 26 second video was posted on YouTube by a university student who described it as Fijian fishermen being murdered.
Fiji Police sources say the student obtained it from a cellphone left behind in a taxi on Suva's Queen Elizabeth Parade.
They have asked Interpol for help in identifying the people seen in the video.
They say there is no clear evidence on who the people are or where or when the murders took place.
One strong possibility is that the murdered men are Somalians rather than Fijians.
Taiwan fishing boats have made huge catches of bigeye tuna in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia.
After several Taiwanese boats were taken ransom, the Taiwan Deep Sea Tuna Longline Boat-owners Association hired armed guards with military style weapons to guard the vessels.
Each boat has three guards with a fee that covers the amount of ammunition. Extra fees are charged if extra ammunition is used.
The men on the boat from which the shots are fired can be heard speaking in Mandarin and at least one other language.
One man sayings: "Shoot, shoot, shoot".
Nelson admiralty lawyer Peter Dawson said international fishing boat crews are appallingly paid in bad conditions.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see it erupt into violence."
But more importantly he believed the video is the result of increasing pressure on fast diminishing tuna resources.
This is occurring in the Pacific where distant water nations, such as Taiwan, are increasingly in competition with local coastal fisheries.
The president of Fiji's Tuna Boat Owners Association, Graham Southwick, told Australia's SBS today that violence often erupts at sea, and crew members go missing.
"Conflicts and fights and murders on the high seas on fishing boats are relatively common," he said."
In the Pacific there'd probably be half a dozen a year at least."
A YouTube spokesman said the online video site did not comment on individual videos.
"While YouTube's guidelines generally prohibit graphic or violent content, we make exceptions for material with clear documentary or news value," he said.
"In cases where a video is not suitable for all viewers, we take care to apply appropriate warnings and age restrictions to safeguard people using our site."
Since Fairfax's inquiry, YouTube has placed an age restriction on the video.
A large tuna fleet operates out of Suva, Fiji. The boats - which carry the flags of China, Taiwan, South Korea, Spain and Portugal - are often crewed by Indonesians, Vietnamese, Burmese and Cambodians on little more than slave wages.