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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Jan. 7) – Forty-nine-year-old Lin Ven Chang, a Taiwanese national and skipper of Taiwanese fishing vessel "San Sheng 168," has reportedly been sentenced to six months in jail and a total of US$180,000 in fines for illegally fishing in New Caledonia's Exclusive Economic Zone.

According to RFO's Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie, Nouméa's correctional tribunal ruled that the skipper was guilty of all charges held against him, including illegal fishing in waters under French sovereignty, failing to identify himself and attempting to evade authorities.

Another charge faced by the captain was extensive damage caused to a New Caledonia fishing boat, the "Karaavha 4," which the fleeing Taiwanese fishing boat collided with before it was finally boarded in waters West off the French territory's main island.

The Nouméa court this week ordered Lin to pay some US$90,000 to Karaavha 4's owners for damage caused.

The trial began mid-December, with prosecutors requesting 250 million French Pacific Francs (CFP, around 2.5 million US dollars) fine against the "San Sheng 168", which was intercepted in the French Pacific territory's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) late November 2003.

Prosecution had also requested an 18-month jail sentence for Lin.

The tuna-fishing vessel was intercepted on November 28 by French navy patrol boat "La Glorieuse" after it was spotted North of New Caledonia and failed to respond to queries.

It took three days for the French authorities to bring the ship back to Nouméa, where the vessel and its contents (eight tons of mainly frozen Yellowfin tuna and sharks) were seized.

Upon hearing the sentence, Lin was told he had ten days to appeal the sentence.

New Caledonia's maritime affairs director Hubert Carré said last month he believed there was " an increasing trend in attempts to fish in our territorial waters and those of French Polynesia too".

The skipper, who is only speaking through interpreters, initially said he was on his way to the Solomon Islands.

Though the skipper is a Taiwanese national, most of the crew are from mainland China.

Authorities were earlier reported to be concerned that the captain and crew could now try to claim political asylum in New Caledonia.

Meanwhile, they are being kept under strict police supervision within the Nouméa harbor.

January 8, 2004

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