US withdraws $24m 'proceeds of crime' claim against Sanford

NZ fishing company Sanford has been charged with a variety of offences relating to its skipjack tuna fishing in the South Pacific. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
NZ fishing company Sanford has been charged with a variety of offences relating to its skipjack tuna fishing in the South Pacific. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

The US government has withdrawn one of the claims in its US Federal District Court case against fishing company Sanford, which is accused of illegal discharges and obstruction of justice related to a vessel operating out of American Samoa.

The US has withdrawn a forfeiture claim against Sanford of US$24 million proceeds of catch covering the period of the allegations, Sanford said in a statement today.

The company said last month it will "vigorously defend" charges related to its vessel San Nikunau and retained New York-based law firm Chalos O'Connor LLP and Washington D.C-based Blank Rome LLP for the trial, which began on July 30 and was set to run for about two weeks.

Executives including managing director Eric Barratt were scheduled to give testimony in the Federal Court in Washington.

The case was brought by the by the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

Criminal charges were filed in January 2012 alleging Sanford was vicariously liable for the failure of certain engine room crew members to properly maintain the vessel's oil record book in connection with the management of oily wastes aboard the vessel. The indictment also charges Sanford with vicarious liability for the alleged obstruction of the US Coast Guard investigation by one of the vessel's crew.

If convicted, Sanford could face a fine of US$500,000 on each count. The charges stem from an investigation by the US Coast Guard, which saw the vessel detained in American Samoa. Sanford had initially faced seven charges.

The San Nikunau is one of three large-scale freezer tuna purse seiners that Sanford operates in the Pacific. It targets skipjack tuna used for canning, which is typically unloaded and sold into one of the two canneries in Pago Pago, according to Sanford.

Shares of Sanford last traded at $3.85 and have fallen about 7 per cent this year.

- BusinessDesk

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