New Zealand’s Sealord fined for exposing crewmembers to asbestos

New Zealand-based Sealord, the country’s largest deepwater fishing company has been fined after pleading guilty to exposing its workers to asbestos while they worked onboard the 50-year-old fish factory trawler Will Watch (IMO 7225831).

In August 2023 Sealord pled guilty to failing to properly protect workers from the risk of harm from exposure to asbestos. It has been 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. The exposed asbestos was reported in 2021, at which time the factory trawler was operating out of Mauritius. New Zealand-based Sealord employees were being seconded to work on it.

In 2021 those seconded crewmembers 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.

Pete Dwen, Maritime NZ’s General Manager Investigations, said 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”, he said. Will Watch returned to New Zealand in 2021 after fishing in the high seas out of Mauritius for nearly 20 years. At the time, Sealord spent about US$1.3m 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. The 1,587 gt vessel is now reported as sailing under a Cook Islands flag, owned and managed by United Fame Investments of Nelson, New Zealand, and entered with Shipowners’ Club on behalf of United Fame Investments (Cook Islands) Ltd.