Foreign Vessels Spotted In Cook Islands Like Transshipping Fish

Questions about payment for prison laborers unanswered

By Florence Syme-Buchanan 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, ) – Two foreign vessels photographed off Pukapuka are believed to have been transhipping fish.

The two photographs on this page understood to have been taken two or three days ago while the boats were anchored just off Pukapuka’s reef passage.

The Ministry of Marine Resources did not reply to emailed questions about the foreign vessels, which apparently belong to the Huanan Fishing Company which has vessels licensed to operate in the Cook Islands.

One of the vessels has been identified from the radio call sign on its starboard side as the Asia Pacific Star No. 1 which is flagged in the Federated States of Micronesia. It’s understood one of the vessels is a carrier and the other a longliner.

Cook Islands News has been told that a Pukapuka-based Marine Resources officer was on board during the transhipment as an observer and a Customs official was also aboard.

Huanan Fishery (Cook Islands) Ltd offloaded bycatch on Rarotonga in 2014 and last year, an operation that was heavily criticised by local longlining company owner Bill Doherty who also owns the Ocean Fresh fish shop.

It has also been alleged that Arorangi Prison labour was used to transport frozen fish from the wharf to reefers and that they were supposed to have been paid $10 an hour. However, CI News was told by a former inmate that the prisoners never received payment for moving the fish which he described as “backbreaking” work. He said prisoners refused to continue working at the wharf. The former inmate pointed the finger at the local man who coordinated the transfer of the frozen fish with Huanan Fishery (Cook Islands) saying it’s likely he pocketed all the pay.

Vincent Dong, a general manager of Huanan Fishery (Cook Islands) said in 2014 that the prisoners had been paid $13 an hour by the company. Huanan was approved by the Business Trade and Development Board to have a seasonal trading licence. This allowed the company to offload frozen by-catch during the peak tourism months from May to August.

Transhipment allows fishing vessels to remain at sea for indefinite periods. Transhipment by purse seiners has been outlawed by many countries. Greenpeace is advocating for transhipment by longliners to be halted because of difficulties involved in monitoring the catch and the length of time fishing boats can stay at sea. 

Cook Islands News
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