French Polynesian courts have approved the seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel after its owner refused to salvage a previous shipwreck.

The impounding of Ping Tai Rong 316, owned by Ping Tai Rong Ocean Fishery Group, was approved on Oct. 19 as collateral for the cost of the stranded ship’s removal.

It was a first for French Polynesia and was aimed at ensuring the estimated $4.8 million cost of retrieving tuna longliner Ping Tai Rong 49 — which has been stranded on a reef at Anuanurunga atoll since July 23 — is borne by the Chinese fishery outfit.

It was discovered that the 40-meter-long ship’s radar was faulty, having stopped working days before. It also had an incomplete map and hit the atoll at cruising speed. The ship was carrying more than 31,000 gallons of fuel, sparking an immediate response from French Polynesian authorities to contain a potential spill.

The Port of Papeete is central to French Polynesia’s fishing industry, which is popular for albacore tuna. Wikimedia Commons

A crew member and the ship’s captain were taken to court, accused of marine pollution and breaching navigation protocol, but they were released last week and expected to leave Tahiti on Ping Tai Rong 316 before the ship’s seizure.

Neither the shipowner nor company representatives had indicated any intention of salvaging the ship, Tahiti-infos reported.

In March last year another Chinese fishing vessel ran aground on Arutua atoll, northeast of Tahiti, and it remains abandoned by its owners. The Shen Gang Shun 1, which was carrying shark meat in a shark sanctuary, has not been successfully retrieved.

The incidents have prompted French Polynesian authorities to consider a local law banning certain ships from transiting through its waters, according to Radio New Zealand.

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