Vanuatu agrees to pay Vt18 million fine to avoid fisheries blacklisting

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Vanuatu-flagged Chinese fishing boat lands Port Vila in hot water with the Cook Islands. Image: Vanuatu Daily Post File

Compiled by Jane Joshua in Port Vila

Vanuatu has reached an agreement to pay a substantial fine to the Cooks Islands, after Rarotonga reported a Vanuatu-flagged fishing boat for possible blacklisting in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Vessel List.

Director of Fisheries, Kalo Pakoa, has confirmed that the flagged vessel, a Chinese-flagged long liner ESSEN 108 entered into Cook Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in December 2015.

The matter was not reported in time and it was mid-2016 when Vanuatu got a report from the Cook Islands, and kickstarted negotiations for a settlement.

“We have managed to get the ship owner or the operator to commit to a fine to pay the Cook Islands,” Director Pakoa told Vanuatu Nightly News’ Kizzy Kalsakau.

“The fine is based on Vanuatu laws and is around $US180,000, which is almost equivalent to Vt18 million.

“We have received this money and we are working with the Ministry of Fisheries in the Cook Islands to settle the fine before they can proceed to remove our vessel from the potential listing under illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing,” Pakoa said.

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“We are now waiting for the Department of Finance to sort out the internal financial matters, so that we can transfer the funds to the Cook Islands.”

Once settled, Vanuatu will not be blacklisted.

“We are in the process of settling the matter, so it rules out any possibility of blacklisting,” the director assured.

Strict measures
The director said Vanuatu had very strict measures about its flagged vessels.

“We are trying to sort this out before the Commission convenes in Nadi, Fiji, next week,” he added.

“Our officials are now in Fiji and we are waiting for the Department of Finance to complete the process so we can transmit the money to Cook Islands.”

The WCPFC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Referring to the WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee’s report on November 17,  Islands Business magazine stated that the Cook Islands would be willing to withdraw the nominated listing as both countries are already in talks to resolve the matter.

Director Pakoa has confirmed Vanuatu will be attending the WCPFC meeting, represented by the Director General of Foreign Affairs and two officers from the Department of Fisheries.

The Department of Fisheries has continued to progress in its effort to effectively deter and eliminate IUU fishing activities, by its national flag fishing fleet of around 136 fishing vessels.

Less than six months ago, Vanuatu was the recipient of a certificate of recognition by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for its commitment to fighting illegal fishing worldwide.

Jane Joshua is a Vanuatu Daily Post reporter.

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