Dozens dead… blacklisted and indebted, but still fishing

The Sajo fish company building beside the main fish market in Busan, South Korea. 06/25/2011 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace

As a country with so much invested in high-tech export earnings, Korea’s out-of-control distant water fishing industry must be starting to give its politicians and business leaders ulcers. The Oyang 75, sitting in Montevideo, Uruguay, after fishing just outside of Argentinean waters, demands international attention.

The blacklisted ship is owned by Korean fishing company Sajo Oyang. Or is it? The infamous vessel had been legally forfeited to the New Zealand government. Sajo paid a bond for its release, and continued to control and operate it out of reach of NZ authorities, who they now owe over NZ$400,000 (US$310,000) in unpaid fines. This has been going on for years – and it’s high time Oyang 75 was seized and scrapped or sold to responsible owners.

Sajo Oyang has certainly demonstrated that it is far from responsible, regularly breaking both environmental and labour laws in its pursuit of fishing profits. We recently explored some of the troubled fishing company’s deplorable actions in a blog about Korea’s fishing crime wave.

In 2010, the company’s reckless mismanagement led to many deaths when sister ship Oyang 70 sank in New Zealand waters. The coroner’s report, which Sajo reportedly tried to suppress, was damning: The master ordered a net of fish to be hauled aboard despite safety concerns, and when the ship started to sink Korean officers evacuated while Indonesian and Filipino crew were left to fend for themselves, without lifejackets.

Earlier this month, another of the company’s vessels, Oryong 501, went down in the Bering Sea with the loss of more than 50 lives. These deaths again focused international attention on Sajo, and raised yet more questions about how Korea can possibly claim to be in control of its distant water fishing fleets. Although the official report is yet to be published, information released so far suggests another preventable tragedy: Oryong 501 reportedly sailed without a qualified captain, and other senior officers and engineering crew were reportedly absent or unqualified when the ship left port using fabricated documents.

Oyang 75 has been listed on the Greenpeace pirate fishing blacklist for years, and Korea has recently received warnings for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing from both the European Union and the United States. While companies like Sajo continue to tarnish Korea’s international reputation with their blatant disregard for environmental, fisheries and labour standards, including the very lives of their crew, Korea cannot escape from the disgrace of being labeled an IUU country.

Right now, Oyang 75 is sitting in port in Uruguay, and it’s time for governments to act. Co-operation between New Zealand and Uruguay could see the ship seized, and any profit from its sale and catch put towards compensating those who have lost so much putting their lives in the hands of this notorious company.

Karli ThomasKarli Thomas is senior oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand. She has spent many months at sea in fishing grounds, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and as far south as Antarctic waters. Karli co-ordinates Greenpeace’s pirate fishing blacklist and works on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

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