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French Polynesia Seizes Chinese Vessel to Ensure Salvage Payment

ping tai rong
Ping Tai Rong 49 aground (French Armed Forces)

Published Oct 26, 2021 2:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a Chinese longliner ran aground in the Tuamotu group in July, officials in French Polynesia have decided to seize a second vessel in the owner's fleet in order to ensure that the cost of wrech removal gets covered. 

The 400 GT tuna longliner Ping Tai Rong 49 went aground on the coral atoll of Anuanurunga, part of the Tuamotu group's Duke of Gloucester Islands, on the night of July 23. The vessel had about 32,000 gallons of fuel on board and a crew of 15.

A rescue helicopter out of Tahiti swiftly deployed to retrieve the crew, and it safely extracted them and delivered them to the luxurious private island resort of Nukutepitepi. Their vacation was brief: the captain and one other crewmember were detained in Tahiti, where they face charges related to pollution and allegedly unsafe navigation. According to local media, investigators believe that Ping Tai Rong 49 had an inoperable radar and incomplete navigational charts in the days leading up to the grounding. 

In order to ensure that Zhoushan-based Pingtairong Ocean Fishery Group Co. Ltd. pays for the estimated $1 million cost of the wreck removal, authorities in Tahiti have seized a second vessel belonging to the same owner, the Ping Tai Rong 316. The administrative seizure has been challenged in court, according to Radio New Zealand. 

“We are not going to spend our time paying [$3 million] to dismantle boats at home. It costs us dearly and in addition we have to run after the shipping companies so that we can be paid," said minister of inter-island transport Jean-Christophe Bouissou, speaking ot Tahiti Info. 

Anuanurunga, the island where Ping Tai Rong 49 went aground, is privately owned and is currently up for sale (price on request). A promotional video (below) shows pristine white sand beaches, an inner lagoon and lush mangrove forests.

The Ping Tai Rong 49 grounding is the second time in two years that a Chinese fishing vessel has gone aground on remote shores in the Tuamotus. In March 2020, the shark-finning vessel Shen Gang Shun 1 went aground on Arutua, some 200 nm to the northeast of Tahiti. A French SAR helicopter evacuated the 36 crewmembers, and a later search during salvage operations revealed that the vessel's hold contained shark carcasses stuffed with shark fins. French High Commission officials believe that the vessel was not poaching in the region's shark sanctuary. 

In response to repeated Chinese groundings, the government of French Polynesia is considering new legislation to govern coastal navigation, along with deployment of new satellite tracking tools for fishing vessel monitoring and maritime domain awareness.