Cape Town 13-05-12 -Japanese trawler runs aground at Clifton Picture Brenton Geach Picture Brenton Geach

Taxpayers may be forced to cough up R7 million for the salvage bill for dragging the Japanese longliner Eihatsu Maru off Clifton beach – because the owner has come and gone without offering to pay for the damages.

And now the SA Maritime Safety Authority, which co-ordinated the salvage of the Eihatsu Maru, looks set to be forced to go to court to settle the dispute. This latest twist in the saga emerged when Weekend Argus learnt that Japanese owner Ryoichi Kobayashi had visited Cape Town after the incident, but had since returned home.

The vessel, which beached on May 12, was pulled to safety on May18 and towed to Table Bay harbour.

Fears are mounting that the Eihatsu Maru could become another Seli 1, which has already cost taxpayers about R24m, or Panos Earth, a bulk carrier owned by a Chilean which has been anchored in False Bay since March when its engines failed.

Confirming that the Eihatsu Maru’s owner had returned to Japan, Samsa regional manager Dave Colly said:

“He didn’t say anything about paying for damages. It’s really quite a bad situation.”

They were to take advice this week about possible legal action. “It looks like we’ll be forced to go to court to sell the ship to recover some of the costs. But even if we are granted a court order to sell it, it won’t be enough,” he said.

Although Japanese consul Yumiko Fujiwara denied a crisis, saying discussions were ongoing between the Japanese government, Samsa and the Eihatsu Maru’s owner, Colly countered that Fujiwara had asked him to hold off on legal action until tomorrow.

Colly confirmed that the state, in the form of the Transport Department, would ultimately have to pay up if Kobayashi refused to pay.

Both DA spokesman on fishing Pieter van Dalen and fishing expert Shaheen Moolla, of Feike natural resource management advisers, blamed Fisheries Department Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. “It is the minister who should satisfy herself that these vessels are safe and have sufficient insurance. If they don’t have insurance, they must give guarantees,” Van Dalen said.

Moolla said: “It is apparent our minister has once again blundered.”

Department spokesman Lionel Adendorf said Joemat-Pettersson was legally absolved from providing such guarantees.

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Weekend Argus