NZ Fishing Company Fined for Exposing Crewmembers to Asbestos

File image courtesy Sealord

Published Jan 1, 2024 10:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

New Zealand’s largest deepwater fishing company has been slapped with a fine after being convicted with a charge of exposing its workers to asbestos while working on-board the 50-year-old fishing vessel Will Watch.

Last August, Sealord pled guilty to failing to properly protect workers from the risk of harm from exposure to asbestos. In December, that charge resulted in the company being fined about US$196,000, a substantial penalty but less than the statutory maximum of US$983,000.

Maritime New Zealand filed the case against Sealord after finding that the seafood company failed to carry out adequate asbestos risk assessments on Will Watch. At the time the exposed asbestos was reported in 2021, the 1973-built factory trawler was operating out of Mauritius, and New Zealand-based Sealord employees were being seconded to work on it.

In 2021, crewmembers who were seconded to the vessel found what was strongly suspected to be asbestos on board. Though the company did not believe there was any risk to the crew, ostensibly because the ship had been checked and cleared, tests by Maritime NZ returned positive results for the hazardous substance.

“Sealord failed in its responsibility to keep its workers safe,” said Pete Dwen, Maritime NZ’s General Manager Investigations. He added that there should have been better consultation between Sealord and UFI about the risks the asbestos posed to the workers. “Sealord also should have done more to identify the risks or hazards the exposure to asbestos fibres on-board presented to its workers.”

In 2021, Will Watch returned to New Zealand after fishing in the high seas out of Mauritius for nearly 20 years. At the time, Sealord spent about US$1.3 million on general repairs and maintenance. In March 2023, the ship received asbestos clearance certificates and returned to its fishing activities in the southern Indian Ocean.