Fresh controversy over factory ships in Australian waters

A fresh controversy is brewing over the use of factory ships in Australian waters, with a plan to bring in a 4400-tonne east European-owned ship.

Meridian 1 would fish for blue grenadier in the Southern Ocean off Tasmania at a time of opposition to the use of foreign charter factory-freezer ships in local waters.

Owned by a company headquartered in the disputed Russian-Ukrainian city of Sevastapol, Meridian 1 flies the flag of the Caribbean island of Dominica, and is registered in Vanuatu.

Following the Margiris controversy, that supertrawler's opponents are campaigning for a ban on any big factory-freezer ship that can process and hold hundreds of tonnes of fish each day.

At 104 metres length, Meridian 1 is around half the tonnage of the Margiris but would equal the largest vessel ever to fish in Australia, the Ivan Golubetz, in 1992.

Meridian 1 has been fishing in New Zealand, and a proposal to bring it to Australia is being developed by Tasmania's Petuna Seafoods, and New Zealand's Sealord, according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"This is as large a vessel as has ever fished in Australian waters," AMCS marine campaigner Tooni Mahto said.

"It's foreign-owned and crewed, and there's a lot of uncertainty about who has oversight of it."

Greenpeace said humanitarian and environmental abuses had occurred in association with foreign charter vessels operating in New Zealand.

"It's not in Australia's interest to import that sort of catastrophe from across the Tasman," said Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans Campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle.

The Stop the Trawler Alliance, formed among fishers and environmentalists to battle the Margiris, said it wanted a permanent ban on all factory-freezer vessels in Australian waters because of concerns about their impacts.

"Has the Australian Fisheries Management Authority not learned the lessons of the Margiris?" alliance spokeswoman Rebecca Hubbard said.

"Trying to slip another big boat through a net of secrecy does no favours to the Australian Government, the fishing industry, or the public."

An AFMA spokesman said it was currently not able to confirm the names of foreign flagged boats that had applied to fish for blue grenadier, but New Zealand vessels had trawled the fishery in the past.

"Please note that, on enquiry, the company operating the Meridian 1 has indicated to AFMA that the flag of the boat may change," a spokesman said.

Petuna director, Les Scott, said he was unable to speak about the Meridian 1.

"In a week's time I might be in a position to comment," Mr Scott said. Sealord had nothing to add, a company spokeswoman said.

Sealord's chief executive Graham Stuart recently told an NZ parliamentary committee the company had used Ukrainian vessels for almost 20 years, in compliance with NZ standards and pay.

The NZ Government is legislating to more tightly regulate foreign charter ships following allegations of mistreatment and underpayment of mainly Korean foreign crews.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently told parliament Margiris would "stay banned", but the government's supertrawler prohibition only applies to vessels over 130m. in length, in the small pelagics fishery.

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