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Detained NZ vessel now in legal battle with USDOJ

fili@samoanews.com

The U.S. Justice Department is in litigation with the owner of a New Zealand based fishing vessel, detained in American Samoa since this summer for alleged violation of federal and international marine pollution laws, says a U.S. Coast Guard official.

According to the website of the New Zealand Maritime, a government regulatory authority, the San Nikunau vessel is homeported in Auckland and its registered owner is Sanford Ltd. It is a listed as a "tuna seine vessel" built in 1982 as a drum trawler but converted to a fishing vessel in 1991. Sanford purchase the vessel in 2001 and has a total crew of about 20.

Lt. Steven Caskey, supervisor for the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Unit in Pago Pago, confirmed to Samoa News yesterday that the vessel has been detained in the territory since July this year following an inspection.

"They (the vessel) were suspected of marine pollution violation and we conducted an investigation into this case, which was subsequently turned over to the Justice Department," said Caskey in a telephone interview.

He said the Justice Department is currently in litigation with the vessel's owner on possible violation of both federal pollution laws and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Caskey could not comment further because the matter is now going thru litigation and is in the hands of the Justice Department, but says that the vessel's crew is still on island.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper quotes Sanford's managing director Eric Barratt saying that the vessel was probably worth $20 million-$25 million (New Zealand dollars) and had been detained in Pago Pago since July after allegations it failed to properly document oily water discharges.

"We have confidence that we have not incurred anything or done anything that they allege is improper, but we have a great deal of difficulty persuading them of that," Barratt is quoted by the newspaper. "The most imperative issue for us is getting the vessel released to go fishing and that's what we're focused on at the moment."

Another of Sanford's vessels, the San Nanumea was arrested and garnished by the High Court marshal on Aug. 26 this year following a complaint filed by crew member Kalolo Petelo on Aug. 25, alleging claims for the seaman's personal injury.

The court ordered the vessel released in late September after the owner agreed to pay damages to Petelo as well as fees, costs and expenses relating to the arrest of the vessel.

In August last year, the Coast Guard detained the Panamanian flagged vessel Syota Mura for several violations, including federal maritime pollution laws and the MARPOL.

The case was later turned over to the Justice Department who filed a lawsuit against the vessel's owner, with the vessel being released in February this year. The case was resolved this year when the owner entered a guilty plea and was ordered to pay a hefty fine.



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