The Phocea returns to Noumea
The megayacht which was detained for 10 months until recently in Vanuatu and then sailed to New Caledonia, before departing for Thailand has had to turn back to Noumea. Meanwhile, issues regarding the yacht continue to fester in Vanuatu politics.
The controversial superyacht, the Phocea, has returned to New Caledonia just two days after setting sail for Thailand, following an engine-related problem.
The Phocea arrived in New Caledonia last week after leaving Vanuatu's capital where it had been detained for nearly 10 months due to a complete lack of valid documentation.
The vessel, which is understood to be managed by Vanuatu's honorary consul, Pascal Anh Quan Saken, entered the country's waters without proper clearance last July.
Johnny Blades reports that issues relating to the vessel continue to plague Vanuatu's government which effectively forced Customs to finally clear the Phocea for departure two weeks ago.
After departing from Noumea on Monday, the Phocea reached a point off the north-western tip of New Caledonia's mainland when it turned back. Pascal Anh Quan Saken's Vanuatu agent and maritime consultant, Guy Benard, says it emerged that the schooner's generator needed replacing so the crew decided to return to Noumea to purchase a new one. Last week, in an attempt to absolve the vessel and its management over the many accusations linked to it, Captain Benard was in Noumea to facilitate boardings on the vessel by local media and officials.
BENARD: I met with some authorities and so on, and I said, 'Well, regarding the bad record of some journalists and so on, it's better for the French authorities to go on the ship to make a complete search and find out if this ship is in order or not'. That they have done and everything was OK.
Guy Benard says the Vanuatu authorities will face legal action for the damages caused to the Phocea while in detention. As soon as I will receive some instruction from the owners and as soon as I know exactly what are the damages and what are the contents of the claim, then I will assist by taking a lawyer here and then we will go ahead with the matter. The Phocea was in the mix of reasons given by MP Willie Jimmy for his termination as finance minister last week by the prime minister, Moana Carcasses Kalosil. Mr Jimmy says had planned to transfer the authority for registering ships from his ministry to Ports and Harbours.
JIMMY: When I am about to introduce the paper to the council of ministers, the prime minister disagreed with me and said, 'I want you to withdraw this paper. We'll have to talk about it first. I want it to remain with the Minister of Finance'. So when I left [the country], on two occasions, I [made] him Acting Minister of Finance. That's how he got the power to release the Phocea, to force the customs officer to clear the Phocea and have it sail out from Vanuatu.
The government has responded to Mr Jimmy in a statement, saying his views on the Phocea reflect poor legal and commercial understanding of the issues.
SPOKESPERSON: His view also fails to acknowledge no findings against Pascal Anh Quan Saken, his crew or his ship by Interpol - a fact that combined with existing Vanuatu Supreme Court orders and State Law Office advice for the vessel to leave brings into play the potential for a huge liability claim from our cash-strapped government. The ship is best off in another jurisdiction so that any international concerns can be raised there, relieving Vanuatu of a dangerous liability.
Meanwhile, Automatic Identification System data still shows the Phocea as being registered in Luxembourg, despite having the new Vanuatu registration granted by an agency calling itself Vanuatu Maritime Services Limited.
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