18 Dec 2006

Pago Pago longliner allowed to leave Cooks

6:47 am on 18 December 2006

The longline fishing boat, Tim Tom, has been freed to return to American Samoa after its skipper was fined US$69,000 for illegal fishing in Cook Islands waters.

Cook Islands Television reports that High Court judge Justice Colin Nicholson imposed the minimum penalty and an agreement was reached under which the boat was not seized.

This was after prosecutors said there were mitigating factors.

US$20,000 from the sale of Tim Tom's catch will go towards the fine, along with a bond posted by the boat's owners.

The Deputy Solicitor General, Tingika Elikana, told the High Court in Avarua that the offending was the result of negligence rather than seeking monetary gain.

The Tim Tom's long lines had been set outside the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone but had been recovered in it because of weather conditions.

Skipper Yeong Bae Han pleaded guilty to illegal fishing in Cook Islands waters and cooperated fully with Cook Islands Police patrol boat officers.

Under the tough, new Cook Islands Marine Resources Act fines of up to 691 thousand Us dollars can be imposed for illegal fishing.

Seizure of illegal fishing boats is also mandatory unless there are special reasons not to.