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Korean fishing company pledges cooperation

Stuff, New Zealand

Korean fishing company pledges cooperation

By Michael Field

15 July 2011

A Christchurch-based company which charters Korean fishing boats for New Zealand waters says it will cooperate with a ministerial inquiry into conditions aboard foreign fishing boats.

The inquiry was ordered yesterday following reports on conditions on foreign fishing boats with allegations of sweat-shop conditions, illicit fishing practices and safety concerns around vessels.

Southern Storm Fishing Ltd was responsible for the 38-year-old Oyang 70 which last year sank off Otago with the loss of six crew.

Its replacement boat, Oyang 75, is under a multiple-agency investigation in Lyttelton after its Indonesian crew refused to work on it.

The Ministry of Fisheries is also investigating it over fish dumping.

In a statement, Southern Storm says it welcomed the ministerial inquiry, saying it looked forward to the "opportunity to lay to rest unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations made against it in the media.

"Through the inquiry, Southern Storm Fishing will comprehensively address all of the allegations made in respect of the company," the statement said.

"Southern Storm Fishing has been the subject of an orchestrated campaign against it by individuals in the fishing industry whose aim is to convince the Government to deny all foreign-owned charter fishing vessels from operating in the New Zealand EEZ.

"This is a campaign directed to cause economic and reputational damage to the company," Southern Storm said.

Southern Storm has a single director and shareholder, Soon Nam Oh of Harewood, Christchurch. Company records show he took over the company at the beginning of the month as Oyang 75 ran into trouble.

Its long standing director, Hyun Gwan Choi, was replaced.

Last year Oyang Corporation held shares in the company, but no longer do.

The Government’s launching of an inquiry may come at the price of a New Zealand free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, which wants open access for its vessels to this country’s exclusive economic zone.

Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley, who earlier this year told Parliament there was no problem with foreign charter vessels (FCVs), and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said yesterday the inquiry would consider all issues.

Some of the about 2500 Indonesian, Vietnamese and Filipino men who work on the boats claim they are beaten and forced to work for days without rest, earning between $260 and $460 a month.

Heatley said it was important to affirm New Zealand’s international reputation as a world-leading fisheries manager.

Wilkinson said reports alleging the failure of some charters to comply with proper employment requirements, including crew working conditions, and vessel safety standards had raised the Government’s concern.

Seafood Industry Council chief executive Peter Bodeker said his organisation wanted an investigation.

"These allegations have attracted national and international interest, and the industry perspective is that this will continue to be a high-profile issue."

Most Maori iwi use FCVs to fish with Treaty of Waitangi quotas. Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has defended their use, saying it "would not be appropriate for the Government to interfere in their decision-making" over the use of FCVs.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official has confirmed that Seoul has asked for open access to New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone as part of an FTA.

New Zealand has rejected the request and instead countered that Korea should lift the up-to 30 per cent tariff it imposes on fish, unless caught by Korean boats.

In the past month, crews of two Korean boats have refused to sail amidst claims of abuse.