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Experts call for action over old fishing boats heading to Pacific

The crew of the Losemani Fo'ou, formerly the Kainga out of Greymouth, is rescued by a German cruise liner lifeboat. (Stuff NZ)

NUKU’ALOFA-March 27: 7:34pm(STUFF.CO.NZ): Marine industry experts are calling for tougher rules to stop old fishing boats leaving the country without inspections, after a Stuff investigation revealed the practice.

The research revealed that as many as 10 old fishing boats, mostly around 12m long, have been bought by Tongans using cheap Government loans in the past few months.

Some of the vessels broke down before they made it to Tonga, while others have fished only sporadically because they needed repairs.

After reading the article, Nelson boat broker Steve Thomas said it highlighted a serious issue the industry needed to address.
“Sales of these vessels to Pacific Island nations should be halted immediately until a rule is introduced that says all vessels under 15 metres leaving New Zealand waters have to pass a Maritime NZ safety inspection prior to departure, at the very least,” he said.

“We’re not doing anyone any favours sending old, rundown trawlers up to the Island nations. Particularly when it appears that many of them are not subject to any professional pre-purchase inspection reports or safety checks prior to departure.”

He said the voyage from New Zealand to Tonga was “tricky, infamous for unreliable weather and boisterous sea conditions”.

“The distance is over 1200 nautical miles. Many of these older trawlers are simply not equipped or capable of safely completing such a voyage”.


Thomas said the practice put the lives of fishermen at risk, as well as rescue professionals and volunteers.

Maritime NZ has been approached for comment. Previously, its chief executive Keith Manch said when a vessel was re-flagged, it became the responsibility of the flag nation. Maritime NZ was helping countries such as Tonga with “capability building”.

?Scott Campbell of Greymouth, the former owner of the Kainga which was rescued by the crew of a German cruise liner in February, said it was surveyed to operate within New Zealand waters but he was surprised the new owners sailed it to Tonga with only a cursory inspection.

“We just paid for that Orion to fly up there…the way I see it is, if we’re paying for rescue missions, which we do quite often, why aren’t we having something to do with the maritime safety organisation of Tonga?”

Former Maritime NZ chief executive Russell Kilvington said the Tongan marine department was short on people and expertise.

“It’s something that’s overdue for directing targeted assistance towards.”
Because of a quirk in maritime law, the boats are leaving New Zealand without inspections by authorities.

While most of them had current certificates of survey to operate in New Zealand coastal waters, they had not been cleared for an international voyage as would be required of a New Zealand commercial vessel.

This is because the new owners have been re-registering the boats to a Tongan flag before they leave, meaning Maritime NZ has no jurisdiction.

One was abandoned at sea at the end of a major rescue operation.

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