|NZ's Sanford fisheries face US criminal trial|
|Monday, 30 July 2012 18:50|
The tuna vessel 'San Nikunau'
One of New Zealand's biggest fishing companies, Sanford Ltd, faces a criminal jury trial tomorrow in Washington DC, charged with conspiracy and oil pollution charges.
It is alleged that - driven to make money - the crew of Sanford's biggest tuna vessel, 'San Nikunau', dumped oil waste while fishing or at night so it couldn't be seen and that they faked entries in the oil logs to cover it up.
In pre-trial motions US District Court Judge Beryl Howell has also heard claims that witnesses giving evidence against Sanford fear the consequences.
Sanford face a seven-count indictment which, if successful, could see the company lose 'San Nikunau', forfeit nearly USD25 million of gross earnings as well fines of up to USD500,000 on each count.
Sanford managing director Eric Barratt, who is in Washington, last month told Sanford shareholders - including National Party (New Zealand's minority government party) president Peter Goodfellow who is also a director - that the firm "will vigorously defend these charges on various grounds.
"As with any litigation there is a risk as to the outcome of this action."
The charges follow an inspection of 'San Nikunau' in Pago Pago, American Samoa, in July 2011. US Coast Guard inspectors witnessed crew clearing a bilge by pumping directly overboard without using the oil water separator (OWS).
The vessel's engineer, Rolando Ong Vano, was initially charged with failing to keep an oil record book as required by law. In April this year he pleaded guilty to the charge and will be sentenced in September.
As part of his bail he is required to return to the US any time he is needed to provide prosecution testimony in any hearings and during the trial.
In papers before the court, two unnamed witnesses say that when 'San Nikunau' was at sea, Ong Vano "routinely ordered the crew to pump water and oil overboard without running it through the OWS, and that has been the method for discharging oily waste ever since [he] has worked on the vessel."
He said they were told to use OWS when in port because the Coast Guard would be watching but added "the crew was instructed to pump the oily bilge waste overboard at night, so they could not be observed."
The court has heard that three members of the vessel, including first mate Moanatai Fredricsen, refused to travel to Washington to testify for Sanford. The company sought to have them submit written statements instead but Judge Howell refused to allow this.
Fredricsen is accused by the other witnesses of telling them to cover up the oil dumping.
"That is not true," Fredricsen said. "I told no one to lie but rather to tell what they knew."
Judge Howell expressed concern at the refusal of the witnesses to appear and their failure to give reasons. She said she was mindful of the statements made by one of the three material witnesses that he feared for his safety in returning to work for the defendant Sanford after tell the US government what he knew.
The witness, named as Rhyme Distor of the Philippines, said he was scared to go back to Sanford because he had no security.
"We do not know what will happen to us.... (We) don't know what will happen, we will be in sea, that's what I'm scared of.
"This is my first time having case like this. I don't have any other record in the past. So I am also scared that I am against my company, and I have - I might be able to say something, that I am scared to go back to work with them."
In January this year a grand jury returned a seven-point indictment against Sanford alleging it violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Also charged is a previous chief engineer, James Pogue.
Source: Fairfax NZ
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