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‘We could be sued’ – TIS warning

Monday October 24, 2016 Written by Published in Weekend
A large-scale EU purse seining ship in action. 16105114 A large-scale EU purse seining ship in action. 16105114

BY JUMPING the legal gun and signing a purse-seine fishing deal with the European Union before the issue was decided by the High Court, the government could have opened Cook Islands up to being sued by the financial powerhouse.


That’s according to Te Ipukarea Society technical director Kelvin Passfield, who says the government should have waited for the outcome of a legal challenge over the matter.

Traditional leaders and TIS launched a legal bid to have the High Court conduct a judicial review of the controversial deal, which will allow four European vessels to purse seine fish in our waters.

Crown Law then requested the review application be struck out, but that was rejected by the High Court. The matter will now be heard before a full court hearing in March.

Passfield said: “The government should have waited until March to see what the High Court decided. But they must have been worried the EU would take the deal off the table.

“Well, revenue from fisheries has gone up an enormous amount in the past year or two, so if they needed to wait a little longer to sort this one out it wouldn’t have been the end of the world financially for them.”

And, he added, if the court finds against the deal it could be costly for the Cook Islands.

“It would depend upon what the EU would impose. They could sue the government for breach of contract.

“I would hope they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, because the EU was very well aware of this legal case that’s going before courts in March.

“They’ve been aware of our opposition to the deal for a long time.

“I spoke to EU personnel in Fiji more than a year ago about this. So they are well aware of this and yet they went ahead and ratified it in the EU Parliament. Now the CI has also agreed to it.”

Passfield said some of the costs of the deal not going ahead would be the loss of revenue the Cook Islands government is expecting.

“They say $9.6 million over four years, but that also depends upon the catch. If its 7000 tonnes or more – which it can be under the agreement – or less than 7000 tonnnes, then that‘s what determines the total amount the government will receive.  “It could be as little as $1 million a year that the government gets, or as much as just over $2 million.”

The EU could also pursue punitive damages against the Cook Islands.

“That could be because, after signing the deal with the Cook Islands, they chose not to pursue deals with other countries they could have had access to. Or perhaps the boats were going to be allocated 156 days to fish here and now those boats could be tied up for 156 days and they may seek reimbursement against those costs.”

“I’m not really sure but, as I say, the EU was well aware of this case and they should have known the risks of signing up.

“Hopefully, they would not be too vindictive towards the Cook Islands.”