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Chilean crew from poaching longliner freed in Australia

Thursday, September 29th 2005 - 21:00 UTC
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The Australian Fisheries authorities will not press charges against the crew members of the Cambodian flagged longliner “Taruman” which remains retained in Tasmania after having been arrested illegally fishing toothfish in Australian waters.

Jorge Cofré, president of the Punta Arenas chapter of the Chilean Seamen trade union said the Chilean consul in Sydney, Eduardo Ruiz informed Tuesday that the 31 crew members made up of Chileans, Peruvians, Russian and Ukrainians will be sent back to their countries of origin, but the captain of the vessel fishing master will be formally charged this week.

"Taruman" was boarded about 660 nautical miles south of Hobart September 6 by an Australian armed patrol, "Oceanic Viking" and was later discovered to have 130 tons of unreported Patagonian toothfish in the haul.

"Consul Ruiz has been in daily contact with the 14 Chilean crewmembers, some of them from Punta Arenas, who are being held at the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney" said Mr. Cofré, adding that they are all in good health.

Apparently Mr. Ruiz is also in close contact with Richard Battesby who runs the detention centre, with Australian solicitor Veno Panicker from Phillips Fox who represents the Spanish owners of the arrested vessel, the heads of the Peruvian and Spanish consulates and Dean Summers coordinator of the Australian chapter of the International Transport Workers Federation, ITF.

Mr. Cofré added that the Australian Immigration Department will see all crew members depart as soon as possible, but it could take some time because Lan Chile and Aerolíneas Argentinas are fully booked and the department's policy is to only have four or five at a time in a flight.

Furthermore the Chilean consul and ITF are demanding the immediate release of the crew and have local authorities pay for lodging and food until they leave Australia.

Chilean crewmembers as part of the deal have entitled ITF to begin legal actions against the Spanish owners of the vessel in case they are flown back before the company has completed arrears payments. The company will also be billed for the return air fares.

ITF is planning to seize the "Taburan" in case the Spanish company does not pay the crew.

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