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Eder Sands: Owners of detained fishing vessel criticise ‘heavy-handed’ regulators

Scrabster Harbour.

The detention of a fishing vessel at a Highland port was “disproportionate and heavy-handed”, its owners have claimed.

Concerns were raised by the operator of the Eder Sands, which was held at Scrabster on July 2 amid an investigation into the non-payment of crew wages and other allegations.

The agents for the vessel’s owners, Ondar Fishing Company Ltd, insisted the move by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was not justified and the detention decision was taken before a “proper investigation” was carried out.

The firm said no wage payments had been withheld, it had not received any complaints from crew members, and the MCA did not make contact with it before taking action.

Further allegations relating to a failure to ensure the vessel had the required certification, covering safety standards such as sewage systems, were also denied by the operator.

Scrabster Harbour.

It pointed to administrative delays by the MCA, and said the vessel had also been available for survey and inspection by the agency at any time, if it had been requested, but it was not.

The agents, Hooktone Limited, said: “The owners and their agents place emphasis on ensuring compliance with fishing vessel regulations including the Work in Fishing Convention (ILO188).

“They are also respectful of the role of the MCA and consider that they have a good working relationship with individual MCA surveyors.

“On this occasion, however, the MCA detained the vessel without any proper investigation or contact with the owners and for reasons which did not justify vessel detention.

“In general, the owners are very concerned about the disproportionate and heavy-handed approach to the situation by the MCA.”

It said that six police officers were involved in the detention of the vessel at Scrabster.

However, the MCA said it was acting on a complaint made by a member of the crew.

“The UK-registered fishing vessel, Eder Sands, was brought to the MCA and other UK authorities’ attention, following a complaint made by a crew member on-board to his embassy in the UK, through the International Transport Federation,” the agency said.

“Prior to her arrival in Scrabster, a principal surveyor from the Aberdeen MO reviewed the complaint and engaged with the owner’s Spanish agent, Hooktone Group, to discuss the complaints made.

“A review of the documents submitted by the company highlighted a number of compliance issues with regard to compliance with ILO188 (The Working In Fishing Convention) requirements; the Fishermen’s Work Agreements were found to be non-compliant, and the crew wage slips provided did not demonstrate that all crew were being paid correctly.

“During the investigation it was noted that the crew list provided stated that there were 20 persons on-board, but that the vessel had not been issued with an International Sewage Pollution Prevention Certificate, which is required under MARPOL Annex IV for all vessels carrying in excess of 15 persons.

“Further it was noted that the vessel had not been surveyed for, or issued with, an ILO188 (Working In Fishing Convention) certificate.

“As a consequence the decision was taken to detain the vessel, with the detention notice being issued remotely.”

The MCA said it worked with the agents to address the issues and conduct the required surveys in order for a short-term certificate to be issued.

“Once satisfied that all deficiencies identified had been rectified, the vessel was released from detention on July 9 2020,” it added.

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