The Melilla 203, owned by Tae Jin Fisheries Co. Ltd. of Busan, is a Korean fishing trawler that was built in 1966. The 203 weighs 2026 tons, is 73 metres in length and its height at the maximum point is approximately 13 metres. It is the sister ship of the former Melilla 201, which was scrapped sometime last year in a Southeast Asian shipyard. Both vessels were under charter to United Fisheries Ltd., in Christchurch. The Melilla 201 was seized by the Ministry of Primary Industries in May 2013, and the Melilla 203 later in September 2013, for illegal fish dumping and concerns surrounding poor hygiene standards and rat and lice infestation. After being seized, it was discovered that the fishing licence of the 203 ran out in March 2013. In all the years both ships were in service, only one fisherman was reported to have died when he was lost overboard in 2004.
The ships had been involved in allegations of illegal fishing on a previous occasion, although at that time they were under different ownership. In the first incident, both captains of the vessels were arrested and it emerged that successive Indonesian crews were each owed approximately $70,000 in unpaid wages. Both captains and the shore-based manager were convicted and the company forced to pay $360,000. The owners of the vessels had to pay a further $300,000 to have the ships released. In the second incident, both ships were wanted for allegations of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. It is estimated that 745 tons of fish on both vessels was missed out of the reports of eight separate voyages. The Ministry believed it was perhaps one of the biggest misreporting cases they had ever encountered. Once the vessels berthed in Dunedin, New Zealand, the captains and crews were immediately arrested. While most of the crew members were released, both captains and several officers faced extensive illegal fishing charges and human rights violations. It is, however, rumoured that a number of the officers managed to flee the country, so all the culprits have not yet been brought to justice.
Taxpayers in the City of Dunedin have been left with the berthing fees of both vessels since they were seized. It is estimated that both vessels have cost the public almost $200,000. Some of the costs accrued because decomposing fish and meat was left aboard the ships, so clean-up crews were employed to fumigate and dispose of the contaminants. Since the ships were each valued to be worth $1-2 million each, many people are angry that they were not sold off in the beginning.
Over the years the Melilla 203 has been docked, it has been expected that it would eventually be sold for scrap, and that it would be dismantled somewhere in Asia with the taxpayer unlikely to recoup any of the proceeds. However, the vessel has recently been bought by the Christchurch company KNW Co. Ltd. and is being given a new lease of life. The vessel is expected to be renamed to KNW 907 and returned to seaworthiness as a bottom trawler. It is reported that it will catch fish for the Northland Deepwater Ltd. Partnership, and that its main ports will be Bluff, Dunedin and Timaru.
Our Version of Events
The Melilla duo have been on our ‘to-do’ list for quite some time. Unfortunately, on our last tour of New Zealand, we were less successful getting inside. Although we managed to get aboard both, and even managed to get inside one section of the 201, we ended up leaving with a pang of regret that we’d not properly explored them. Fortunately, when we returned one of the two remained, so we wasted no time planning how we were going to get aboard.
A few days later, we found ourselves wandering through the abandoned cabins of the Melilla 203. To be honest, we hadn’t expected to find much once inside; we imagined the vessels would probably have been stripped of most of their valuables after being seized. How wrong we were! We also underestimated how much equipment can be crammed inside a fishing trawler. We led ourselves to believe that there would be a few old nets lying around on the deck and inside the hold, which there were, but we didn’t expect to find a whole processing facility below decks. It seems that the taxpayers’ money to clear the vessels of all contaminants and foodstuff didn’t go a long way, since there were plenty of consumables left aboard. We discovered that some of the cans containing a nutty sort of drink were still fairly preserved though, so it wasn’t as if we were surrounded by tons of rotting food.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around the entire ship. The old engine room and the bridge were the best parts of the whole explore in my view. The machinery below decks certainly looked dated; a lot of it is likely to be part of the original ship that was constructed in the 1960s, so we found that particularly interesting and, although the engine was nowhere near as large as the one we found on the North Sea Producer, this one still looked like it was a bit of a beast. As for the main control room, all of the equipment – maps, books, electronics, emergency gear – all remained exactly how it was left so there was plenty of action to be had with the old camera.
As we decided to leave, however, we hit a slight problem. A group of fishermen has decided to set up camp just outside the vessel, on the other side of the barbed wire fence that was securing our side of the dock. Obviously it would look a little suspicious if three individuals suddenly leapt off the ship and made a hasty exit. Thankfully, though, the former crew had left the captain’s jacket, plenty of hardhats and hi-viz that all smelt strongly of fish, so I think we seemed pretty legit as we climbed off and walked away.
Explored with Nillskill and Bane.