South Korean tuna fishing group Dongwon Industries confirmed that it has taken legal action against the local Liberian agency Inter-Burgo and the agency’s owner, Jeong Dal Park, which it says issued it forged fishing licenses.
Sources had told Undercurrent News that Dongwon was suing the agency and Park over allegations that they issued the company with fake fishing licenses to operate in Liberian waters.
A spokesperson for Dongwon confirmed this.
“Yes, Dongwon believes the local agent is liable for putting the company into the unforeseen jeopardy of obtaining false licenses,” the spokesperson told Undercurrent.
“We have filed the summons and complaint via local attorney. The status is pending and not much progress has been made as of yet.”
The company did not provide more details regarding the lawsuit.
The case dates back to 2012, when Liberia accused Dongwon — among other companies – of operating in its waters without a fishing license.
In April 2013, the parties agreed to settle, and the Liberian Bureau of National Fisheries (BNF) announced that the company paid a total fine of $1 million to $2m for each of the purse seiners involved, the Premier and the Solevant.
The payments released the vessels of the charges of illegal fishing that included unlicensed fishing activities, undeclared catches and the use of forged Liberian licenses.
Like the other companies accused of operating under fake licenses in Liberia, Dongwon had cried foul and said it was the victim of fraud.
In June 2013, the company told Undercurrent it had filed a complaint with the Liberian government. “Dongwon’s complaint has been filed. From now on it is up to the Liberian ministry of justice to investigate the matter,” the company had said at the time.
European fishing fleets were also found to be operating with fake fishing licenses. In the summer of 2012, the European fleet associations Anabac and Orthongel and the company MW Brands quietly settled with Liberia’s government over the issue.
The settlements are said to have involved payments of $50,000- $300,000 per vessel, for about 30 European-owned vessels, according to sources close to the process.
The incident led to efforts from the companies to ink a private memorandum of understanding (MoU), to be signed between the National Bureau of Fisheries and each company or association involved.
Similar talks have also taken place with Sierra Leone, and the resulting MoU is understood to have been accepted by the Spanish associations Anabac and Opagac, although not by Orthongel, which is said to have balked at the price.
To avoid a repeat of last year’s events, the European fleets also demanded that any agreement be validated by their respective governments and embassies.
“To avoid a situation like last year’s, we are in the process of consolidating our licensing system when EU agreements are lacking with the signature between the government and [ourselves] of a private memorandum of understanding and a validation of our agreements by [embassies],” a member of one of the European fleets told Undercurrent in May last year.