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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 19) – Fines of NZ$250,000 [US$182,000] were yesterday slapped on Taiwanese long lining vessel FV Yin Chen No 1 for illegally fishing in Cook Islands waters.

The boat is expected to leave the Cook Islands on Monday when the $250,000 is paid. The Yin Chen will leave with all its cargo - none of the fish on board will be sold locally.

The captain of the vessel, Man-Liu Tsai, was convicted in the high court yesterday afternoon on a single charge that between 1 and 7 May, being the master of a foreign fishing vessel not licensed to fish inside the fisheries waters of the Cook Islands, engaged in fishing inside those waters. This breached section 19 of the Marine Resources Act 2005.

Judge Colin Nicholson, who presided over the matter, was told that the Yin Chen No 1 had made multiple incursions into the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone during the week long period.

Solicitor general Mike Mitchell in his submissions said that while there were six incursions in total, in view of the explanation given and accepted, only one charge was laid, encompassing all six occasions.

The maximum penalty for the charge in question is $1 million and the minimum $100,000.

Defence lawyer Iaveta Short represented the captain and said that the master was not aware of the seriousness of the matter and realised that the lapse of details would cost him and his company dearly.

Judge Nicholson in handing down his decision said he accepted that the offence was not deliberate and that the master believed he was fishing in an international water pocket between the fisheries waters of the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Kiribati.Nicholson said he accepted that the master's blameworthiness for actually intruding into Cook Islands waters was due to an inadequate chart he prepared and used.

He said that the offence of illegally fishing in Cook Islands waters was regarded as serious. In favour of the master was the fact that the act was not deliberate, his and the company representatives had given full cooperation and there had been an early plea of guilty.

A fine of NZ$200,000 [US$145,000] was made against the master of the vessel with additional orders for the payment of NZ$49,000 [US$36,000] for general costs and $1000 [US$726] of court costs.

Nicholson said he found there were special reasons for not ordering the forfeiture of the vessel and equipment and therefore did not make an order.

The vessel and its cargo-approximately 22 tonnes of fish, of which 8.75 tonnes of assorted fish, predominantly albacore tuna, was caught in Cook Islands waters-equipment, the defendant and crew can leave once payments are made in full to the high court. Items taken during the investigation will also be returned to the vessel.

Two representatives from the company were present during the court hearing. The company is Taiwanese, registered and owned by the Haur Shyang Fishery Company Limited, a registered company which is wholly owned and controlled by Taiwanese national, Jin Xhin Lin.

The pair left the country last night with the sealed order to ensure that funds can be transferred to the Cook Islands immediately.

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