It seems that every couple of month or so Korean fishing boats abroad are in the news.  Sometimes they are victims of pirate attacks but more often than not they are the alleged perpetrators.  This story is a little different.  There are claims of verbal, physical and sexual abuse aboard a couple of Korean fishing boats operating in New Zealand waters.  The United States has taken an interest while the Korean government is distancing itself from any involvement.  Mixed in with this is an implied threat that investigation into these allegations could hurt the New Zealand-Korea free trade agreement (FTA).

 Let’s start.  The New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times (August 7, 2011)  reports that following a series of articles alleging abuse of Indonesian crews aboard Korean fishing boats in New Zealand waters:

A Korean fishing company is paying private investigators to find out how academics and the Sunday Star-Times obtained information on the slave-like conditions aboard foreign fishing vessels.

[...]

The private investigators have targeted Auckland University Business School academics, who will this week release a report on human rights abuses suffered by 2000 men from 27 foreign fishing boats in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.

The report focuses on the deaths of six men in the 2010 sinking of the Oyang 70, which went down 650km off Dunedin while fishing Maori iwi quota.

For those that don’t remember – here is the link to the Oyang 70 incident.  We also covered it here on The Hole following the sinking of another ship , the Insung No. 1, just a couple of months later.

FAILURE TO PAY WAGES

What are these abuses?  We’ll get to the physical and sexual abuses later but the primary complaint seems to be the low pay – or, in some cases, no pay.  It is the company’s alleged refusal to pay the Indonesian crew that led them to go on strike June 20th – refusing to leave New Zealand until their claims are resolved.  Many in the New Zealand community agree with them.  Despite the horrible natural disasters that New Zealand has experienced this year, the residents of Christchurch have donated some 10,000 dollars to aid the fishermen.  There is also a web campaign to assist them and protest their treatment.

What does the company have to say about this?

Oyang, part of Korea’s giant Sajo Group, says it cannot afford to pay New Zealand minimum wages to crews – although it tells government officials it is doing so.

“If we pay like the Kiwi, our business cannot survive. That is why we have to invite in Indonesian crews,” an official said.

The company claims it is losing millions while the Oyang 75 – brought in to replace the 70 – is tied up in Lyttelton, with its Indonesian crew refusing to work.

If you remember right – back in December 2010:

A spokesman for the fishing crew says they get paid above the New Zealand minimum wage, and that it’s not true about their eating conditions.

New Zealand’s minimum wage in 2010 was about $NZ 12.75 an hour and according  a copy of the crews’ rights - which Southern Storm has apparently signed off on – the crew members were to receive an additional $2 per hour (up to December 2010 – may be higher now).

In May, this year, TVNZ (May 11, 2011) reported:

Southern Storm Fishing’s Russell Barron told ONE News “there is not enough physical resource on the New Zealand shore to go out into the deep water”.

“Some of these guys, if they’re here for two or three years, effectively go home the equivalent of a millionaire because of the amount of money they are earning in New Zealand,” he said.

I guess they might – if they received their pay. 

Now it would be extremely unprofessional of me to not note this very contradictory piece - an article that notes that four Ministry of Fisheries officers were on the ship for several days for some  “up-skilling to be more effective managers of New Zealand’s world-class quota management system.”

The Oyang 75 was chosen by the Ministry because it was appropriate for such training. Mr Barron said Southern Storm Fishing was happy that it could assist the Ministry in improving the skills of fisheries officers.

“There is a false perception that foreign charter vessels operating in New Zealand’s deep-sea fishery are cloak and dagger and do not adhere to maritime safety, fisheries management or employment legislation, but in Southern Storm’s case that could not be further from the truth,” he said.

Southern Storm Fishing invited news media on board the Oyang 75 today to obtain a first-hand view of the working and living conditions of the crew. All crew aboard Southern Storm Fishing’s vessels are paid more than the New Zealand minimum wage and also receive cash advances and other payments while on board the vessels. In addition, the company complies with the New Zealand Code of Practice on Foreign Fishing Crew.

The Oyang 75 crew was not the only crew to leave their ship in protest of being abused and unpaid – so did the  crew of the Shin Ji (also a Korean ship, chartered by Tu’ ere Fishing Ltd).  They were discovered by the police “sleeping rough on the streets in bitterly cold weather.”  An investigator noted the Shin Ji “was in a generally untidy and poorly maintained condition, with fishing gear blocking access to the liferaft on the upper deck. He found however, that the vessel appeared to be well provisioned.”  Skipper Magazine (PDF) also has a piece on life aboard the Shin Ji.

UNITED STATES LOOKING INTO THE ALLEGATIONS

These allegations of abuses have also attracted the attention of the United States:

Diplomatic sources said US ambassador at large Luis CdeBaca, who heads that country’s effort to monitor and combat people-trafficking, will visit Wellington this month to discuss the report.

He will also meet Auckland University Business School researchers Glenn Simmons and Christina Stringer, who are completing a year-long study entitled “Not in New Zealand waters, surely? Labour and human rights abuses aboard foreign fishing vessels”, due to be published shortly.

“In a nutshell, we find that serious physical, psychological and wage abuse is widespread on Korean charter vessels in New Zealand waters,” Simmons said. “Disturbing levels of inhumane conditions and practices were also found.”

The State Department also acknowledged the Sunday Star-Times investigation into the use of foreign charter vessels in New Zealand waters.

KEEP KOREA’s NAME OUT OF IT

It is fully understandable how something like this could be embarrassing but I found this kind of strange.  The Sunday Star (July 10, 2011) reports:

A fishing company spokesman has warned that ongoing investigations by the Sunday Star-Times into slavery at sea “may soon have an impact” on negotiations between Wellington and Seoul for a free trade agreement (FTA).

A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade source confirmed that Korea had tabled a demand, as part of the negotiations, for open access to New Zealand fishing grounds, now subject to tightly controlled New Zealander-only quota arrangements.

The official said such claims were common in the early stages of negotiations and New Zealand had so far said no, saying FTAs should be restricted to tariff and border issues.

Korea imposes tariffs of up to 33% on New Zealand fish, unless it is caught by Korean boats such as the Oyang 75, in which case they are tariff-free. An official at the Korean Embassy in Wellington, Tony Sung, said Korea should be kept out of the media.

“We hope that in any context neither the Korean embassy nor the Korean government will be referred to in any article about these issues and we wish such hopes will be respected by you,” Sung wrote.

“From now on, any further correspondence from you on these issues will not be acknowledged or responded to.”

I agree that the Korean government and embassy are not responsible for this incident but, as it is a Korean ship (chartered or not) and that the officers of the ship are Koreans, that they should be involved in getting this incident resolved as soon as possible.

WHO OWNS THE SHIP AND WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

This gets even more complicated – at least when it comes to determining who owns what and who is issuing all of these company statements.

In this article (Sunday Star, July 15, 2011):

Southern Storm Fishing Ltd was responsible for the 38-year-old Oyang 70 which last year sank off Otago with the loss of six crew.

Its replacement boat, Oyang 75, is under a multiple-agency investigation in Lyttelton after its Indonesian crew refused to work on it.

The Ministry of Fisheries is also investigating it over fish dumping.

In a statement, Southern Storm says it welcomed the ministerial inquiry, saying it looked forward to the “opportunity to lay to rest unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations made against it in the media.

“Through the inquiry, Southern Storm Fishing will comprehensively address all of the allegations made in respect of the company,” the statement said.

“Southern Storm Fishing has been the subject of an orchestrated campaign against it by individuals in the fishing industry whose aim is to convince the Government to deny all foreign-owned charter fishing vessels from operating in the New Zealand EEZ.

But how does Oyang and Sajo fit into this?

Southern Storm has a single director and shareholder, Soon Nam Oh of Harewood, Christchurch. Company records show he took over the company at the beginning of the month as Oyang 75 ran into trouble.

Its long standing director, Hyun Gwan Choi, was replaced.

Last year Oyang Corporation held shares in the company, but no longer do.

Not so sure Mr. Choi was replaced.  This article by 3 News (1 July 2011 – cached) says he quit after the allegations came out.  He sold his shares and was no longer the director of the company.  Michael Field has  a lot of material on this including when Oyang pulled out of Southern Storm.

But I am still confused – who is responsible for this ship?  Because this Sunday Star article (July 10, 2011) acknowledges that Southern Storm Fishing chartered the ship but –

Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood yesterday accused media of an inability “to distinguish between separate entities or agents and who is acting for whom”. The agents in Indonesia were crew agents, not agents of Oyang or Southern Storm.

[...]

Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood, in a letter to the Sunday Star-Times, said Oyang vessels had a long history of involvement in New Zealand and their officers and crew and representatives had never been prosecuted by the Ministry of Fisheries or its predecessors. He said this was a “rare accomplishment”.

Hmmmm.  It was found guilty of discharging oil illegally in June 2010 – and, judging from the report, the court was fully confident on Southern Storm and Oyang’s relationship.

The vessel is owned by Sajo Oyang Corporation, a company incorporated in Korea and at the time of the spill called Oyang Corporation (Oyang). The vessel is registered on the Korean Shipping Registry and flies the Korean flag….Oyang has operated a fleet of fishing vessels, including the Oyang 70, in New Zealand waters since the 1980s….The Defendant, Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Limited, is a company registered in New Zealand and based in Christchurch. It has one director and one employee. The Defendant sources Annual Catch Entitlements (ACE) from various fishing quota owners and contracts with Oyang to use its vessel to catch the fish covered by the ACE under authority of fishing permit in the Defendant’s name….Sajoy (sic) Oyang is responsible for manning the vessel and all crew andmofficers on the vessel are Sajo Oyang employees.

TVNZ also looked at the Korean company’s “chequered past” (August 18,2010).

IS ALL OF THIS SCRUNITY PART OF AN ANTI-FOREIGN FISHERIES CONSPIRACY?

In an article (July 23, 2011) reporting an incident between the Oyang 77 (Southern Storm Fishing) and Amaltal Explore (Talley’s Fisheries) the paper describes them as “rival Kiwi companies” and notes that Southern Storm Fishing charters its boats from a Korean company.  I found this statement kind of telling because it is echoed over and over – that the allegations and investigations are because of anti-foreign sailor sentiment:

Mr Hazlett said Talley’s supported the ministerial inquiry into foreign fishing charter boats in New Zealand waters announced by Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley last week.

“Our view has been consistent that New Zealand fishing resources should employ New Zealanders.”

And…

In the 2008-09 fishing year, 30 of them caught 198,000 tonnes, while 1142 domestic boats, including the inshore fleet, caught 221,000 tonnes.

VERBAL, PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE

But it isn’t only wages -or lack of – that the crews are protesting:

The business school’s study shows crews are routinely exploited by fishing companies and the agents who hire them in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

It includes statements from sailors and witnesses exposing what goes on, including one from a man who described officers as “vicious bastards”, detailing an assault that split a man’s head.

“I told the master, can’t leave him cause he’s bleeding all over the squid. He said, `oh no, no, he’s Indonesian – no touchy, no touchy’. I took him to the bridge and third mate said, `Indonesian – no stitchy, no stitchy’. I ended up giving over 26 stitches.” There are also details around foreign officers sexually abusing Indonesians at sea.

I could find no instances of the alleged sexual abuse except for this – from 3 News New Zealand (June 30, 2011):

Hendra, a deckhand, told 3 News for two years they’ve been underpaid and mistreated.

“There is often times when he got asked to massage the captain whether he likes it or not. He has to massage him for hours,” he says through an interpreter.

The Jakarta Globe (July 18, 2011) also reports and here (a little different but with a picture of the ship):

One of the crew, Sunardi, told New Zealand’s One News that he and his compatriots had been abused by their South Korean bosses for months. “Every day they call us monkey, s*** and pigs,” he said.

Another crew member, Sodikan, said he had been physically abused. “They kicked everyone, including me,” he said.

But Southern Storm Fishing denies these allegations (Sunday Star, July 2, 2o11):

“Southern Storm Fishing rejects claims of employee mistreatment and says it is the focus of an anti-foreign worker campaign being undertaken by competitors in the fishing industry,” a statement read.

Again, the claim that this stems from Kiwi companies trying to keep the foreigners out.   Here is a video by a New Zealand tv news crew that contradicts the company’s claim of no abuse going on.  Unsurprisingly,  other companies are also alleged to mistreat their crews:

“We have no reason to believe it’s any different to the treatment other foreign fishermen are receiving on other boats. We certainly believe it is [an issue throughout New Zealand] based on the evidence to date in various reports done by the Government and independent parties.

NOT JUST NEW ZEALAND

These alleged abuses are not isolated to New Zealand – this post (South Korean pirate fishing ships: Modern slave ships?) on The Hole discussed conditions aboard Korean fishing boats off Africa’s coasts.