16 May 2017

Legal battle over seized South Korean boats continues

10:20 am on 16 May 2017

A five-year legal battle over two seized fishing boats has been batted back to the High Court for a new hearing.

At stake are millions of dollars in unpaid wages and two fishing boats worth $11.6 million and $1.5 million respectively.

The drama began when a South Korean fishing boat, the Oyang 70, sank off Dunedin in 2010, claiming six lives.

Two years later, two sister ships, the Oyang 75 and the Oyang 77 were seized by the New Zealand government for fishing offences including illegal fish dumping.

Lawyers for the mainly Indonesian crew also alleged mistreatment, including crew being punched by their officers.

They went to court seeking to have money for unpaid wages extracted from the value of the forfeited ships.

The crew of the Oyang 77 sought $4.7m, with extra money claimed by survivors of the sunken ship who had transferred to the other vessel.

Some of this money was said to be reimbursement for the crew being paid a salary below the legal minimum wage in New Zealand.

Their legal claim was rejected by the District Court but lawyers for the crew won on appeal to the High Court.

The Court of Appeal has now struck down the High Court ruling, saying the judge there interpreted the law far too broadly.

The case has now been sent back to the High Court for a new hearing.

Residual elements that had languished unresolved in the District Court have been promoted to the High Court so all issues can be dealt with at once.

In doing so, the Court of Appeal did not rule out the chance that the crew would get their money in the end - it just rejected the reasoning of the High Court judge.

The ships at the heart of this argument, which were seized in 2012, later resumed plying their trade in international waters.

This was done to avert crippling berthage fees while legal argument dragged on.

But a lawyer for the crews said whoever finally ended up winning a claim against the ships could enforce a New Zealand court order in other jurisdictions.

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