Taiwan fishing crew facing $5 million fines

MAJURO - A Taiwan fishing crew faces fines worth more than $4 million (S$5 million) after being charged with a series of breaches of the Marshall Islands' fishing regulations, an official said Friday.

The FV Taumoana and its skipper are accused of secretly dumping undersized tuna back into the ocean and obstructing the work of onboard observers, one of whom claims to have been assaulted.

The Taiwanese Fong Seong Fishery Group's vessel and its master, Yeh Po Wen, face 29 charges but other incidents are under investigation, Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority director Glen Joseph said.

According to papers filed in court, the master of the Taumoana repeatedly prevented Marshall Islands fisheries observer Fred McKay from doing his job while on board the vessel.

The charges, which carry a maximum penalty of $4.02 million (S$5 million), accuse Fong Seong of breaching its agreement with the Marshall Islands by refusing to allow McKay on the bridge on a fishing trip late last year.

Joseph said the vessel also failed to report that it dumped back into the ocean undersized tuna in seas around the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation of atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The fisheries department is "still investigating... other numerous incidents where FV Taumoana discarded tuna without reporting. This includes obstruction of other observers by Mr Wen on numerous occasions," Joseph said.

McKay said in a statement included in the court file that he had been told by other observers "the fishing master never allows them to go inside the bridge".

He also accused the master of assaulting an observer from Kiribati. High Court Judge James Plasman has ordered the Taiwanese company to post a $350,000 bond to continue using the vessel while the case proceeds.