11 Mar 2013

Registration issue keeps super-yacht detained in Vanuatu

4:31 pm on 11 March 2013

Almost eight months after it arrived in Vanuatu, the super-yacht The Phocea remains detained by authorities in Port Vila due to lack of proper registration.

After the boat entered Vanuatu without proper clearance, Police and Customs officials inspected the vessel, suspecting it carried contraband.

No contraband was found but false documentation presented on behalf of the crew and boat sparked a series of legal and technical issues which have kept the Phocea in Vanuatu until today despite efforts by the government to allow it to leave.

Johnny Blades reports:

Having brought the Phocea to Vanuatu, shortly after he was appointed as a diplomatic representative for the country, Pascal Ahn Quan Saken is anxious for the boat to leave.

Mr Saken, who has management rights over the boat, says having it detained in Port Vila is costly and also dangerous during the cyclone season.

The naturalised Vanuatu citizen left the country before police brought members of the schooner's crew and passengers in for questioning.

Crew were prosecuted for breaching the customs, immigration and quarantine act.

The Police Commissioner Arthur Caulton says police have completed investigations into the boarding of the yacht by two government ministers, including the Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot, before the Phocea had been cleared.

"There are matters for two ministers that are still at the court to be heard. But at the moment, it is now up to the Customs Department and Ports & Harbours (Authority) for clearing this vessel to leave Vanuatu."

The Deputy Director of Operations for Customs, Stanley Trief, says it's unclear when the Phocea will be allowed to leave.

Currently it's detained under the Ports law. So if that is sorted, we can give clearance, but at the moment we haven't received any clearance for that. So from the Customs side, we won't give a departure clearance. If everything's ok, and currently it's to do with the registration, that's why the vessel is currently being detained.

It recently emerged that the Phocea was granted provisional registration by a deputy Commissioner on Vanuatu's Maritime Technical Advisory Committee, Guy Benard, who claimed that Mr Saken purchased the Maritime Authority shipping registry for 2.5 million US dollars.

The head of Vanuatu's international shipping registry, Robert Bohn, says the registration is different to that which the Phocea used to travel through Panama en route to Port Vila and was subsequently found to be false.

The advisory committee issued the provisional registration for a single voyage to the shipyard in Thailand. And once it had been through the shipyard and had all the maintenance done and had its documents updated by the surveyors there in Thailand, then they were going to make application for full registration under the International Shipping Registry.

However the Finance Minister Charlot Salwai says the new registration is invalid because he suspended the Committee last year.

He says the Maritime Authority which appointed the Committee has been defunct since 2007.

We should do what's in line with laws instead of doing something outside the law. The neccessity to appoint a new Advisory Committee... the government is planning to introduce another body to replace the Vanuatu Maritime Authority.

But Robert Bohn, who is also a government MP, says the Minister is incorrect about the status of the committee.

He has indicated it is still a matter up for discussion at ministerial level but insists the yacht is free to leave any day now.