A Korean fishing boat sank in New Zealand waters nearly two years ago because it was not watertight, an expert witness testified at an inquest today.
A Coroner's Court inquest is being held in to the 2010 sinking of the Korean fishing boat Oyang 70 in calm conditions 740 kilometres off the coast of Otago. Six men died in the accident.
How watertight the vessel was when it sunk has been the subject of debate at the inquest into how three of the Indonesian crewmen died.
Maritime expert Robert Leyden said the ship could have survived a severe list when crew pulled in a very large haul of fish if the vessel had been watertight.
"Had the watertight bulk head, between the factory deck and the engine room, actually been watertight it is probable for crew to have sufficient time to remove the mass of fish on the trawl deck, press up the various slack filled tanks on the port side and bring the vessel upright," said Leyden from Germanischer Lloyd New Zealand Ltd Principal Surveyor.
"Even with marginal stability the vessel should've been able to remain in float indefinitely with this list and the weather conditions prevailing at the time," said Leyden.
The Maritime expert said inoperable scuppers or drain holes meant there was no way for water to wash off the ship, and waste shoots and watertight doors were left open allowing the engine room to flood.
"Had the crew been sufficiently trained in an abandon ship procedure and sufficiently an organised abandon ship undertaken, the head count of the survivors would have shown that not all the crew were accounted for," said Leyden.
Earlier today, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) maritime services manager Sharyn Forsyth told the court the Oyang did not sink due to watertight integrity issues.
"Even the newest ship, with all watertight doors fully closed, will not remain upright in the event that too great a weight is pulled aboard," she said, referring to earlier evidence that the ship capsized when pulling in an over-full net.
She defended the agency's role in checking on the safety of foreign charter fishing vessels.
Forsyth said today that MNZ had "taken a number of decisive actions" since the sinking and inspections were now to a "higher standard" than previously.
Checklists had been developed that required a complete physical inspection of the structure of the vessel, all lifesaving appliances, fire fighting appliances and radio equipment, she said.
The inquest is expected to run until the end of the week.
Captain goes down crying
The evidence has shown that some of the 51 crew pleaded with the Oyang's captain Hyonki Shin to cut loose an enormous 120 tonne catch of southern blue whiting but he continued to bring it aboard, causing the ship to roll over and sink.
Witnesses said he refused a life jacket as the ship was sinking and the navigator said "the captain was hugging a post and crying, after drinking clear liquid from a bottle."
Shin's body was never found.
The bodies of three Indonesian crew members were recovered. Two others were never found.
No Korean officials or members the Sajo Oyang Corporation, who owned the ship, have attended the inquest.
The Oyang shell company that chartered the ship, Southern Storm of Christchurch, has three New Zealand lawyers present.
Coroner Richard McElrea has also revealed an inquiry was being held into the later sinking of the No. 1 Insung from Korea in the Ross Sea. Twenty-two people died in that sinking.
Issue to be raised in free trade talks
New Zealand has since complained to South Korea about the state of its fishing ships operating in this country's waters, warning the issue will be raised during free trade talks.
A joint ministerial inquiry ordered by the government earlier this year reported that Korean flagged ships were damaging New Zealand's international reputation.
"MNZ has also specifically pursued diplomatic avenues for addressing non-compliant Korean FCVs (foreign charter vessels), including by visiting the Korean registry of vessels and seeking to have issues concerning FCVs included in NZ/Korea trade talks," Forsyth said.
Diplomatic sources have said that South Korea wants open access to all New Zealand fisheries under the proposed free trade deal.
In court, Forsyth said MNZ had changed its policy toward foreign boats after discovering "Korean authorities might not have been universally requiring ships carrying the Korean flag to be maintained to the standards expected by New Zealand."
Forsyth said a cabinet would next month look at a paper on whether the foreign flagged ships would be allowed to continue operating in New Zealand.
The ministerial inquiry ruled out an immediate switch to New Zealand flagged trawlers, but her evidence hinted at serious consideration of re-flagging.
Twenty foreign charted boats from six countries operate in New Zealand waters.
"MNZ has also been working more closely with Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Department of Labour to share information and coordinate inspections and interventions on FCVs where appropriate," Forsyth said.
In cross examination the lawyer for the families of dead, Craig Tuck, asked if MNZ had a watch list for poor vessels.
She said they did not.
"We don't have something as specific as a watch-list; we do monitor high risk vessels."