Cook Is and Vanuatu make progress on blacklisting of Vanuatu tuna boat

Ben Ponia, Cook Islands Ministry of Fisheries Permanent

Secretary (c) at the WCPFC meeting in Nadi this week.

By Jonas Cullwick

Blacklisting of the Vanuatu-flagged fishing vessel, the Essien No. 108 has still not been averted, despite Cook Islands declaring itself happy with Vanuatu’s progress in dealing with the issue.

The Essien No. 108 was caught fishing without a license in Cook Island waters in December last year.

After a lengthy investigation by Vanuatu authorities the vessel’s operator was ordered to pay a fine of USD$186,000 (approx. Vt 20 million) which the Vanuatu government passed on to the Cook Islands on Friday in a last minute bid to avoid the blacklisting of the boat.

A recommendation for blacklisting will go before this week’s meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Nadi unless Cook Islands informs the Commission the case has been resolved.

The Cook Islands Head of Delegation at the WCPFC, Ben Ponia, told the Daily Post that the Cook Islands Government is happy with the progress taking place between Vanuatu and Cook Islands to resolve the issue between the two countries.

“We shook hands on Sunday with the Vanuatu delegation,” he said when the Daily Post caught up with him outside the main meeting venue at the Sheraton Denarau resort.

When asked if the Cook Islands had received the money sent by the Vanuatu Government on Friday, Ponia, the Permanent Secretary to the Cook Islands Ministry of Fisheries said: “Let’s say we are very happy with the progress that Vanuatu is taking to resolve the issue.”

“For us Vanuatu is displaying itself as a responsible flag state and we are happy with the way the progress is going,” he continued.

The Permanent Secretary added, however, that the Council of Ministers of the Cook Islands Government would still have to decide on removing the complaint against Vanuatu in this Commission meeting and that he was drawing up the council paper for the ministers’ decision which he said was expected to come next week.

In the meantime Ponia said the Technical Compliance Committee (TCC) of the WCPPTC was being kept informed of the progress being made by Vanuatu to resolve the issue.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: Cell # 678 5460922

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