Inquiry vessel is sunk

Tuesday January 05, 2016 Written by Published in Local

The infamous fishing vessel at the centre of allegations of bribery against a former Minister of the Crown was sunk off Aitutaki at the end of last month.

 

CI News understands the Bounty fishing vessel, based in Aitutaki, sailed its last voyage on November 30 when it was towed out to deeper waters and sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Bishop allegedly bought the Bounty from Aitutaki couple David and Rakera Herman for $20,000 between late 2012 and early 2013, with no intention of entering the longline fishing industry.

But by purchasing the vessel, the Cook Islands Police prosecution alleged Bishop freed up a fishing licence and Huanan Fishery subsequently bought the Bounty from Bishop’s company TNM limited for $26,744.36.

However, last month Justice Weston said there was insufficient evidence to conclude this, and noted “limited resources of the State would better be focused on the Samade charge.”

In February last year two New Zealand Serious Fraud officers and two Rarotongan police officers searched Bishop’s properties in Aitutaki and seized a number of items related to their investigation.

Among items seized were the engine keys to the Bounty. Since then, the fishing vessel has remained unused and unmaintained.

Bishop’s legal counsel claims it it was the Cook Islands Police Service’s  responsibility to maintain the vessel but they failed to do so for almost two years.

And at the end of last month as the Southern Cook Islands caught the tail end of cyclone Tuni, vessel owners were told to vacate the Aitutaki and Avatiu harbours.

According to the Cook Islands Herald, Bishop had the Bounty inspected before the cyclone warning and noted its deteriorated condition and significant rust, as well as a missing steering wheel.

There were no facilities to bring the Bounty onto dry land, which meant the only option was to sink it.

CI News understands a marine engineer on Aitutaki took up the challenge, and with supervision of an enviroment officer removed 3,000 litres of oil and sludge from the engine compartment.

Then the vessel was towed by the Aitutaki ports barge and sunk in the open sea at an estimated depth of more than 3000 metres.

However CI News understands no permit approval for sinking the vessel – required by the Ministry of Transport – was acquired.

It is likely the failure of the police to maintain the $20,000 vessel while it was in their possession will be highlighted by Bishop’s legal counsel.

Bishop’s case will be heard by a judge and 12 jurors in July next year.             

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