Update: Vessel owner fined for illegally manning U.S. flagged vessels

APRA HARBOR, Guam — Coast Guard Sector Guam has levied fines of $150 per violation against the South Pacific Tuna Corporation for eight separate violations of Title 46 United States Code, Section 8304 for using unlicensed foreign personnel to illegally fill the roles of chief mate and chief engineer on U.S. flagged vessels.

 

When asked why the fines were so small a spokesperson for the Guam Coast Guard sector explained that the fines are the maximum allowable under Title 46, which is older legislation that the USCG is attempting to update.

 

Crew members from Sector Guam determined in March 2012 that the violations had taken place on five of the company’s 14 purse seine vessels while conducting dockside vessel safety examinations in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. The safety examinations are required by specific legislation for the U.S. flagged Distant Water Tuna Fleet.

 

The same legislation allows U.S. flagged purse seine vessels operating under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty to fill the positions of chief mate and chief engineer with properly licensed foreign officers.

 

The Coast Guard found that South Pacific Tuna Corporation’s vessels Ocean Conquest, Ocean Warrior, Sea Bounty, Sea Honor and Sea Quest had illegally used foreign personnel who did not possess the proper licenses.

 

The Coast Guard has recently published new policy guidance regarding manning and licensing requirements for the fleet.

 

“The Coast Guard is committed to ensuring that the manning laws of the United States are followed," said Capt. Casey White, commander for Sector Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. “The chief mate and chief engineer are safety critical positions and must be filled by properly licensed personnel.”

 

The Coast Guard considers the Distant Water Tuna Fleet to be a high risk fleet. Between 2006 and 2014, there have been 19 fatalities on this type of vessel, giving it one of the highest fatality rates of any U.S. fishing fleet in the nation. All of the fatalities occurred while the vessels were operating within the Fourteenth Coast Guard District’s Area of Responsibility spanning 23.1 million square miles.

 

There are 40 tuna purse seine vessels within the U.S. flagged Distant Water Tuna Fleet. The South Pacific Tuna Corporation significantly recapitalized this fleet between 2003 and 2008, adding 14 Taiwanese-built purse seine vessels. These vessels are approximately 210 feet in length and typically have 30-35 people on board.

 

BACKGROUND

 

The South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC) is co-owned by StarKist, Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and Taiwan’s FCF Fishery Co and is headquartered in San Diego, CA.

 

Samoa News notes the 5 vessels fined list American Samoa as their homeport and are a part of the Taiwanese-built purse seine vessels that were at the center of controversy between Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and then Gov. Togiola Tulafono, in 2008.

 

At the heart of the controversy was a Faleomavaega sponsored bill that allowed Taiwanese-built fishing vessels (purse seiners) to hold US fishing licenses to fish in US EEZ waters.

 

At the time, Faleomavaega stood with SPTC, saying such a move was needed to revitalize the U.S. tuna fleet, which had dwindled down from a fleet of about 40 to only 14 tuna purse seiners.

 

Togiola objected to Faleomavaega’s bill because he said it would undermine the rights and benefits of Exclusive Economic Zones that have long been established and recognized by the community of nations in this and other regions throughout the world. He noted at the time the bill would allow Taiwan-built purse seiners based in Pago Pago, to be operated by Taiwanese for Taiwan business interests.

 

Faleomavaega replied, “The Governor’s point about Taiwan business interests is moot considering that the US branded tuna industry is for Thai, Korean, and Canadian business interests.”

 

He said, “…my purpose in moving H.R. 3669 forward is to ensure that the canneries in American Samoa, whether foreign owned or not, have the fish they need to stay in American Samoa. No fish means no canneries and no canneries mean no jobs.”

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