Friday, March 08, 2013
Korean officers have been heavily criticised over the sinking of a fishing boat off the New Zealand coast which saw them leave their crew to fend for themselves. Coroner Richard McElrea reported today on the sinking of the 38-year-old Korean flagged trawler Oyang 70 which sank on August 18, 2010, 740 kilometres east of Otago. Six men were killed, including Korean skipper Hyoniki Shin, 41, who chose to go down with the ship. Three bodies were recovered, and two other crew are believed to have been trapped in the ship when it rolled over. Oyang 70, owned by Sajo Oyang Corporation of Korea was one of a fleet of foreign charter fishing vessels, under charter to Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Ltd of Christchurch. McElrea conducted public hearings in Wellington last April but the final report was delayed after the Korean company objected to its adverse findings. He said of the 51 people on board, the eight Koreans held positions of responsibility while Shin was described by witnesses as "an angry man", "very authoritarian" and "not collegiate". The ship sank due to "mismanagement by its master" who ordered that the crew continue to haul in a very large net of southern blue whiting despite the crew pleading with him to cut it free. "His attempt to haul a 120 tonne bag of fish on the trawl deck of a vessel with marginal stability set in place a catastrophic and sudden chain of events that he and his Korean command personnel were unable to counter," the report said. Shin failed to react in any professional manner. When it became clear the ship was sinking the Koreans did nothing to organise the evacuation of the Indonesian and Filipino crew. The deckhands initially had no life jackets while one witness said the Koreans all wore life jackets. An Indonesian crewman gave evidence that the "Chief Officer (with glasses) and other Koreans could all save themselves on one life raft which comprised of three engine people, factory supervisor, deck hand and one Chinese cook . . . amazed Korean deck boss not on deck or talked to deck staff". There was no evacuation plan in effect: "It was a matter of every man for himself". The order to abandon ship was given in Korean and many crew did not hear the alarms. The crew on the factory floor were "bizarrely left processing fish until they were in water of a metre's depth", the coroner said. Only the Koreans were trained in deploying life rafts but there was no evidence that they did and it was left to the crew "to do their best in the circumstances". Oyang 70 had left Port Chalmers on August 14 with almost empty fish holds with "marginal stability" the report said. Only one fuel tank was full creating a "free surface" effect in the other tanks which meant the ship's centre of gravity kept moving. A "prudent master" would have taken steps to prevent this. "The master, for commercial reasons, may well have chosen to sail with the vessel in a 'tender' state and with marginal stability." Oyang 70's watertight integrity was "fair to average" but it was operated "with routine violation of maritime rules and principles of good seamanship".
The water-tight door to the engine room was permanently open - resulting in it flooding. "The vessel was not run in an orderly fashion and there was a poor safety culture," the report said. At 2.50am on the day of the sinking the big net came in and when the crew realised its size, the bosun asked the first officer to stop bringing it in. The first officer said the decision had to be made by the captain, and he went to wake him. "The master ordered the net to be hauled," the report said. It could not be fully retrieved because of its size and instead pulled the ship over. The coroner noted evidence from a helmsman that Shin "was more interested in catching fish than boat safety". Dumping fish would have had a "loss of face" and a financial cost, of about $13,000. The ship went into a list and water flooded in through a factory deck offal chutes that had been left open. After Shin failed to right the ship he gave a command in Korean to abandon ship at 4.30am. "The navigator last saw the master in the wheelhouse where he handed the master a life jacket which he refused to accept," the coroner said. "The master was sitting hugging a pole in the wheelhouse and crying after having drunk from a bottle." An Indonesian crewman gave a statement that they during the sinking there was "no alarm, no instructions, shows
The coroner said it was admirable that the Indonesian and Filipino crew looked after each other. "There is no evidence of qualified personnel carrying out defined tasks in ensuring the orderly evacuation of crew," he said. The coroner said it was a miracle 45 people survived and hailed the rescue staged by the Nelson based Talley's ship Amaltal Atlantis. "All parties associated with the inquest acknowledged the rescue operation undertaken by the Amaltal Atlantis was of the highest order," he said. McElrea was dismissive of a Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal report into the sinking, saying: "No reliance is placed on this undated and unsigned document procured on plain paper without any official setting." McElrea ruled that the three crew whose bodies were found and were subject of the inquest, Yuniarto Heru, Samsuri and Taefur, had all drowned. In an annex the coroner noted that Southern Storm and Sajo Oyang had objected to the evidence taken from police records of interviews with survivors in Christchurch. "The information gathered from survivors has at times been contradictory and confusing, as indicated in the Findings," he said. "However by careful analysis of this evidence, it has been possible to draw some important conclusions." Footnote: Oyang 70's sinking prompted the University of Auckland Business School and Fairfax Media to investigate extensive abuse of foreign charter fishing boat low wage crews. Parliament is currently considering a bill to require all fishing boats to be New Zealand flagged – and thus fully under New Zealand law.