The 24-man crew of a Chinese-flagged fish carrier vessel that ran aground last week at Taka Atoll in the northern Marshall Islands was rescued over the weekend by Marshall Islands Sea Patrol’s Lomor patrol boat and a Chinese fishing vessel. The crew of the Ou Ya Leng No. 6, a Chinese-flagged fish carrier, arrived safely in Majuro Sunday night.
With crew safety settled, the unanswered question loomed large: What was the Ou Ya Leng No. 6 doing in Marshall Islands waters that led it to run aground at Taka?
Taka is an uninhabited atoll located about six miles southwest of Utrok Atoll in the northern Ratak Chain of the RMI.
“The immediate priority was to rescue the crew,” said RMI Chief Secretary Ben Graham Monday. They arrived in Majuro Sunday night and were cleared into the country by RMI Immigration. Graham indicated that all arrived safely in Majuro after spending several days between the vessel and Taka island. The US Coast Guard and the fishing vessel Shen Lian Cheng 737 assisted with the rescue of the crew.
Graham said a vessel owner representative is expected to arrive Majuro this Friday and the government expects to learn of the owner’s plans for the vessel after they assess the situation at Taka.
RMI government investigators began interviewing the crew Monday in hopes of determining how the vessel ran into the reef at Taka. In the meantime, Graham said a multi-agency group was preparing to head to the northern atoll to conduct a full inspection of the vessel and assess damage to the atoll.
The government is “treating this as a crime scene,” Graham said. “We are organizing a joint inspection trip with relevant agencies.” He said EPA would be making an environmental assessment of hazards of fuel leakage and other environmental issues.
“This is already an environmental disaster but there may be additional impacts if it begins leaking fuel,” said Graham.
The 308-foot vessel remains grounded and upright on the Taka reef, said the US Coast Guard, which provided aerial reconnaissance of the vessel.
The 308-foot vessel is a freezer fish carrier similar to the transshipment carrier vessels that use Majuro lagoon to receive tuna tonnage from fishing boats. The vessel owner is reported to be a squid supplier to longline vessels fishing in the region.
“The vessel in question is a reefer carrier and is not licensed to operate in the RMI exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” said Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Deputy Director Sam Lanwi.
“What they were doing in RMI waters is still unanswered,” said Graham.
Read more about this in the January 11, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.