Taiwanese Owner Of Vessel Detained In RMI Outraged At Charges

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Purse seiner Jin Yu 212 accused of illegal fishing in Marshalls

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 27, 2015) – A Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel is being held in the Marshall Islands until it puts up a half-a-million-dollar bond or resolves illegal fishing charges filed in the local courts. But a representative of the arrested vessel expressed outrage over the criminal charges that are preventing the vessel from fishing.

As of Thursday, the purse seine fishing vessel Jih Yu 212 had not paid the $500,000 bond and was being held by authorities in port Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

Chern Lung Fisheries, Ltd, the Kaohsiung-based company that owns the boat, fishing master Hsia Fun Lin and radio operator Shih Huh Ching faced nine charges that have a maximum fine of $6.5 million.

They have pleaded not guilty to the charges before High Court Chief Justice Carl Ingram.

The company and its vessel are facing four counts of fishing without a license and five counts of obstructing a fisheries observer.

Three different fisheries observers said they were blocked from going to the ship’s bridge to check the captain’s logbook and navigational equipment to record location of the vessel during fishing trips from July last year to January.

A Majuro-based agent for the vessel sharply criticized the fisheries department for laying charges. "No officer on any fishing vessel has the guts to ban any observer going to the bridge to work — even Taiwan President Ma cannot do that," said Pony Ma, representative of Asia Ocean Marshall, the agency that handles fishing boats from Chern Lung Fisheries.

To monitor tuna catches, purse seiners fishing in the western Pacific are required to carry fisheries department-provided observers on all fishing trips. Ma said the charges from the observers are ridiculous because any problems should be reported and resolved after each trip. "How can it be five-to-seven months, then, the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (says the) fishing vessel violates the regulations?" Ma asked.

But three observers said that during the four trips they were on this vessel over the past eight months, Ching and Lin interfered with their ability to confirm the boat’s daily position and to check the ship’s logbook. When police and fisheries enforcement officers searched the vessel in Majuro last week, the ship’s logbook could not be found. "Every vessel must have a log book, but this vessel does not have a logbook on the bridge," said fisheries enforcement agent Marcella Tarkwon after the search.

Tarkwon said in addition to the problems with the observers, the vessel was discovered fishing illegally in Marshall Islands waters on January 1 and 2 by using the vessel monitoring system that reports the positions of vessels on an hourly basis to fisheries departments.

Although the vessel was licensed to fish in the Marshall Islands in 2014, it has no license for 2015, said fisheries officials.

The vessel is allowed to leave Majuro and return to fishing if it posts the bond. Ingram said if the company can offer evidence that it was not fishing illegally in the exclusive economic zone of the Marshall Islands, the court will schedule a hearing for testimony. If good cause can be shown, the court will reduce the bond payment to $350,000, Ingram said.

In the meantime, a pre-trial status conference is scheduled for May 21 among attorneys. The fisheries department netted nearly $1 million in fines from fishing vessels last year.

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