Owners wash their hands of stricken vessel

The Eihatsu Maru fishing vessel which ran aground on Clifton beach may have to be sold as the owners have not paid “a single red cent” of the R7 million salvage bill.

And the cargo of frozen tuna is likely to be sold for a song as it is apparently too tainted with controversy for Japanese markets and tastes, as it apparently offends their sense of propriety.

Poor seamanship and a snoozing captain contributed to a Japanese fishing vessel running aground on Cape Town's famous Clifton Beach in May this year. Picture: Neil Baynes. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The longliner, which ran aground at Clifton’s First Beach last month, is in Cape Town harbour with a damaged propeller and shaft. On board is 70 tons of frozen tuna in its freezers that no one seems in a hurry to buy.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) wanted to go to court on Monday to ask the court to sell the vessel, cargo and fuel to defray costs, but the Japanese consulate has asked Samsa to hold off until Tuesday.

Samsa regional manager Dave Colly said on Monday the consul had asked that Samsa first meet members of the Japanese Tuna Association this morning to try to resolve the matter out of court.

The longliner is apparently a Japanese vessel, but owned by a Chinese company. In terms of Japan’s maritime regulations, vessels on their register must comply with conditions such as having a Japanese master and engineer and be owned by a Japanese company. The Eihatsu Maru did not comply with these conditions.

“It is still a Japanese ship, but it was apparently sold to a Japanese front company, because it is a Chinese owner. They have not paid a single red cent and are disputing all the costs. The whole thing has turned into a nightmare. They’ve shown absolutely no remorse, absolutely no sense of wanting to take responsibility,” Colly said.

Samsa had put out feelers in Japan to find out what the cargo of tuna would fetch.

“Markets can pay up to $200/kg for certain types of fish, but feedback we’ve been getting is that the tuna is too tainted by scandal, so buyers in Japan are refusing to pay top dollar. It’s a scandal to them because no Japanese ship would conduct itself in this manner, arguing about the bill and having a front company. It’s not helping marketing the fish. We’d be lucky if we get $250 000 for the 70 tons.”

The R7m bill is for the salvage operation only, without harbour fees.

The morning the vessel ran aground the weather was calm, but there was thick fog and it was still dark.

Asked if Samsa had established the reason for the vessel running aground, Colly said: “The captain was asleep and his instructions were to call him when they saw lights. We suspect their radar was not working. They claim it was, but if they had radar they would have known there were rocks there.”

The owners claim the radar had broken during the salvage operation, but Colly said that was unlikely.