South Korean officers of the Oyang 75 fishing vessel have stayed overseas and well away from the hearing where crew members are giving evidence against them on fish dumping and catch misreporting charges.
The Christchurch District Court hearing was told the five officers were overseas and had not returned nor given instructions to a lawyer to put their case at the hearing.
That lawyer, Marty Logan, told the court today of his efforts to get instructions but he had not succeeded and Judge David Saunders gave him permission to withdraw at the start of the hearing.
Without the accused present, the hearing is likely to become a formal proof hearing instead of an eventual trial. The Oyang 75 is overseas but has been bonded back to the New Zealand fishery authorities. It would be forfeit to the Crown if the charges were found proved.
Fisheries prosecutor Grant Fletcher said the officers had a cavalier and arrogant attitude to the rules and crew members would describe their behaviour as “cruel”.
The Indonesian and Filipino crew walked off the ship when it put into Lyttelton after two fishery trips in 2011, citing issues with inhumane treatment, long hours, and pay issues.
Six Indonesian crew are scheduled to give evidence at the hearing that began today. It is likely to finish tomorrow and then adjourn for more evidence to be heard later from fishery observers and affidavits from other crew members who are no longer in New Zealand.
If the judge hearing the case concludes that the charges have been proved, the hearing will then move to a sentencing phase – again without the five defendants.
The master of the fishing boat, Chong Pil Yun, 41, is charged with aiding the dumping of fish, making false or misleading statements, and hindering a fisheries observer.
The deck bosun, Wongeun Kang, 42,is charged with aiding the dumpings.
Juncheol Lee, 36, who was the radio operator, and the chief officer, Minsu Park, 41, are charged with aiding the dumpings, and making false or misleading statements.
Tae Won Jo, 51, was the factory manager and is charged with aiding the dumpings.
Fisheries officials allege that damaged and small quota fish were dumped at sea. Fish caught that were not worth a great deal was discarded and higher quality fish was then caught to maximum returns for the company.
The maximum fines on the dumping charges are $250,000, but $100,000 on the reporting charges. The vessel would also be forfeit.
Fletcher told the court of an estimate that 1000 tones of fish worth about $US1 million had been dumped by the Oyang 75 on its two trips.
He told the judge that the vessel had no observer on board on the first of its two trips in New Zealand waters. On the second trip, dumping would take place when the observer was asleep or not in the factory part of the ship, and on one occasion when the woman observer was too intimidated to intervene. A watch was sometimes in place to ensure the observer was not returning to the factory when dumping was occurring.
The value of the recorded catch was $US1.8m.
Fletcher described the dumping of quota fish as “systematic, industrial, and on-going”.
The first witness, deckhand Slamet Raharjo, 37, who said he had seen discarding always going on in the factory, and the captain would have known that significant fish dumping was taking place on the first voyage. He had never seen fish being dumped like this in his 17 years as a deck hand.
The crew worked continuously when the vessel was fishing, with only short breaks for eating. The longest of these work periods was two days and two nights.
He was fearful of some officers. “They were very angry people,” he told the court. If he had spoken out, he feared he would be sent home.
Oyang 75 is a 68m stern trawler which operated out of Lyttelton. It had eight Korean officers and a crew of 33 Indonesians and 2 Filipinos. It was worth up to $US8m. It was operated by Southern Storm Fishing Ltd which chartered it from its Korean owners, the Sajo Oyang Corporation.