79-foot fishing vessel runs aground off Oahu, 20 Men rescued

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…As Operators advise FG: Shut down Apapa port***

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 19 foreign fishermen and their American captain from a 79-foot (24-meter) U.S.-flagged commercial fishing vessel that ran aground off the shore of Waikiki Tuesday night.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir said Wednesday that officials are working to get diesel fuel off the boat, which carries 13,000 gallons (49,210 liters) of gas and hydraulic oils. There was no sign that any fuel or other hazardous materials had leaked into the water, Muir said.

Officials did not receive a distress call from the Honolulu-based Pacific Princess when it ran aground in shallow water less than 400 yards (366 meters) offshore, Muir said. Eyewitnesses on land reported the incident to the Coast Guard, which responded with the Honolulu Fire Department by boat, jet skis and helicopter. No one was injured.

The Coast Guard does not yet know why the captain or crew did not call for help. “The Coast Guard is investigating the circumstances of why the vessel grounded and I’m sure that’s a question they are asking,” Muir said.

All but three of the men aboard the boat were moved to a nearby Coast Guard vessel and returned to shore. The captain and two crew members were hoisted from the fishing boat by helicopter and flown to Honolulu International Airport, where they were met by police and federal immigration officials.

The boat’s foreign crew is being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at Pier 17 in Honolulu because they do not have visas to enter the United States.

Hundreds of foreign workers are employed in the Hawaii fishing fleet due to a federal loophole that allows them to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the dangerous jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour, a 2016 Associated Press investigation found.

The Coast Guard said the 19 crew members of the Pacific Princess are from Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Some may find other boats to work on while others may return to their home countries, Muir said.

Officials will try to salvage the vessel during high tides in the coming days.

The Coast Guard said rescuers arrived at the boat just before midnight Tuesday in calm seas with 11 mph (18 kph) winds. The area is dominated by coral reefs.

Records show the longline tuna fishing boat is owned by TWOL LLC. in Honolulu. The same company is listed as owning the Pacific Dragon commercial fishing vessel.

In the meantime, against the backdrop of the unbearable gridlock along the Apapa and Tin Can port access roads which has been made worse by the ongoing road rehabilitation work, operators in the maritime sector have urged the Federal Government to shut down the Apapa port completely and allow the road repairs to be carried out without interruption from vehicular traffic.

Some operators had earlier suggested that cargoes should be diverted to other ports in Nigeria but the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms. Hadiza Usman, said that it was not in the hands of government to relocate cargoes but it was importers that would decide where vessels carrying their cargoes should berth.

The Chairman, International Freight Forwarders Association, PTML Chapter, Sunny Nnebe, said that while it might not be in the hands of government to divert cargoes to other ports, the government however had the power to close the port and restrict access.

He advised the government to take this action, adding that it would enable the road rehabilitation to go on unhindered.

He said, “If the government shuts down the port completely, importers will know that the port cannot be accessed and they have no option than to move to other ports.

“There are ports in Rivers State; at Onne, ships can berth comfortably. The government should close down the (Apapa) port because the work cannot go on smoothly as long as there are tankers and trucks moving up and down the entire area and disrupting the work.”

Nnebe also suggested that the government should relocate the tank farms, stressing that the action would lessen the volume of vehicular traffic into Apapa since most of the vehicles entering Apapa were tankers going to take delivery of petroleum products.

The Coordinator of the Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr. Osita Chukwu, supported the closure of the Apapa port.

He claimed that importers spent over N5bn every month because of the traffic situation in the area.

“If one uses $10,000 to import goods only to spend $20,000 in getting the goods out of the port, that is a loss,” he said, adding that importers were willing to move their cargoes to any other port as long as government makes that port conducive.

Chukwu said, “We spend five hours going into and out of Apapa everyday. Many containers are involved in offshore business; the vessels carrying them cannot berth because the ones that berthed cannot leave. Some containers had been cleared by Customs after complete examination was carried out on them but these containers have been unable to get out of the port. Some containers sit on top of trucks for days in an attempt to get into the port.

“The government can shut down the port. There are other ports outside Lagos and bonded terminals that are scattered all over the country with their own excise offices. Let the government close down the port so that the road repairs can be done once and for all.”

He doubted the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi’s pronouncement that the Apapa gridlock would end in December, adding that it was not possible as long as the port remained open for business.

An importer, Edy Akwaeze, equally joined the call for the closure of the port and the relocation of tank farms from Apapa.

“Let them take the tank farms out of Apapa to Badagry border. The ports should be closed and the containers should be relocated to Kano or Abeokuta where there are bonded terminals lying idle. They can make use of these terminals while they work on the roads,” he said.

ABC with additional report from Punch

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