The announcement of a ministerial inquiry into foreign fishing charter vessels in New Zealand waters is long overdue.
The Maritime Union says ongoing problems with the abuse and underpayment of overseas crews on joint venture vessels in New Zealand waters have become an international embarrassment.
Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the Maritime Union and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) had intervened in numerous cases in the past few years.
“We are interested to see the industry is now calling for the inquiry, but we have been calling for an inquiry like this for years. It has been a long time coming.”
Mr Fleetwood says the current regulation of the New Zealand fishing industry and joint venture operators using international crews was being shown up as a failure.
“It is time to lance this boil. There needs to be a thorough investigation of the industry and immediate concrete steps, not just talk, to clamp down on the abuse and exploitation of overseas crews in New Zealand waters.”
Mr Fleetwood says the Union will be demanding that the ministerial inquiry is not just a “smother job” that sits on the bookshelf gathering dust.
“This must not be a box ticking exercise. We know what the problems are, what we need now is action, proper regulation, proper enforcement, to clean up a mess that has been allowed to grow for years under successive Governments.”
He says the Union wants an industry with world class wages and conditions for all workers, and employment opportunities for New Zealand workers in their own industry.
Mr Fleetwood says a recent incident where 32 crew left the Oyang 75 in Lyttelton earlier this month was an example of some of the problems in the industry.
The company responsible for chartering the Korean vessel, Southern Storm Fishing, were the charterers of the vessel Oyang 70 that sank last year with the deaths of six crew.
In May 2011, Southern Storm Fishing held a “media event” in Dunedin where journalists were invited on board to inspect their new replacement vessel, the Oyang 75.
But less than two months later, the crew of the new flagship of their fleet have abandoned the Oyang 75 en masse in Lyttelton, claiming physical and verbal abuse and underpayment.
In the latest development, a diplomat from the US State Department is currently visiting New Zealand as part of a investigation into global “human trafficking” which includes the abuse of fishing crews.
Mr Fleetwood says the Maritime Union is meeting with Ambassador Luis CdeBaca during his visit tomorrow to discuss concerns about the abuse of international crews in the global and New Zealand fishing industry.
Background to Oyang 75
A pattern of activities has been identified by the Maritime Union going back several years, in relation to the operations of Southern Storm Fishing and their vessels and crews.
ShinJi and Mr Hyun Choi
Department of Labour is reported to be currently investigating claims of abuse and underpayment of crew on ShinJi.
Crew members told media they left the vessel in Auckland several weeks ago due to underpayment and mistreatment.
The Shin Ji is chartered by Christchurch-based Tu Ere Fishing, went into voluntary administration recently.
A director of the company is Hyun Choi, also a director of Southern Storm Fishing, currently engaged in the Oyang 75 crew dispute in Christchurch.
In 2009 the ITF and Maritime Union investigated the Shin Ji after 12 Indonesian crew left the vessel.
The reasons they gave for leaving the vessel were non payment of wages, problems with harassment from officers, and substandard living and working conditions.
ITF inspector Grahame MacLaren reported a number of problems – “the vessel was in need of a good clean and there were large areas of rust on the deck in the galley, no bed linen, no hot water with the crew expected to shower in cold sea water. We also pointed out that the life rafts were almost inaccessible due to fishing gear being stowed all around them.”
NZ$52,776 in back pay was secured for the crew by the ITF and the crew were repatriated back to Indonesia despite initial resistance from the charterers.
Southern Storm media promotion
Southern Storm represented by publicist Glenn Inwood of Omeka Communications in Oyang 75 media promotion in May 2011. Inwood’s previous clients have included Japanese whaling industry and tobacco companies.
The $1000 “Bounty”
An advertisement placed in the Otago Daily Times in 2007 offers an $1000 bounty for information about missing crew member Kismo Pakistan who left his vessel the FV Oyang 70 in Dunedin on 5 June 2007.
The contact listed in the advertisement was Fisheries Consultancy Limited of Lyttelton and the advertisement was authorized by Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Limited of Christchurch.
Breach of RMA
In 2009 Southern Storm was found guilty of breaching the Resource Management Act following an oil spill from the Oyang 70 in Port Nelson. They contested that they were not the responsible party, but the judge found otherwise.
Sinking of Oyang 70
Southern Storm chartered vessel Oyang 70 sinks on 18 August 2010, 400 nautical miles off Otago coast. Six crew drowned.
Surviving crew kept away from media when taken ashore. The crew were then bused to a secret location, with police closing the Lyttelton tunnel so a media contingent could not follow the survivors’ bus through to Christchurch.
A former police officer involved in the case stated that crew were “treated appallingly” (Sunday Star Times, 12 April 2011).
“All the survivors came with the same story, and they all said they were hauling a bag of fish,” says Greg Lyall, captain of the Amaltal Atlantis, who rescued the survivors.
“The vessel lent over to one side – the factory filled up with water and the engine room filled up with water. There were no alarms, no lighting, nothing, and within 10 minutes the boat was gone and most of them had to swim to the life rafts.”