TARAWA, 18 MAY 2020 (STUFF NZ) — “I love you all and wish you all the best.”
Those were the simple, heartbreaking last words Eritara Kaierua wrote to his wife Tekarara Kabangaki and their four young children.
He dashed off the nine lines while aboard the Win Far 636, fishing for tuna in the south west Pacific. It was just before 8pm on a Friday evening.
Within 12 days, he was dead from a head wound. Police are now investigating his death as murder.
“Hello my wife and children whom I love so much,” the email to his family, in Kiribati, begins.
“I apologise that I have just managed to get in touch, it has been over one week fishing on this vessel and we have just caught only 70 tonne of catch.
“Fish is a little scarce or maybe this location is not fertile, we are now fishing in Papua New Guinea and we are still here.”
Kaierua had boarded the rusting tuna-fishing vessel in Pohnpei, Micronesia in February. He was working as fisheries observer, for the Kiribati government. His death was reported on 03 March in waters off Nauru.
These watchdogs travel aboard fishing fleets, monitoring endangered species by-catch and illegal dumping.
“How are my children? Yes, let them know to go hard at school so that they become intelligent and wise. Tell them to study really hard and to be obedient to you at all times,” Kaierua wrote.
He inquired about his wife’s health, as she’d recently been unwell. “I will try [my] best to stay healthy from here too. I guess that is it for now for the fishing net is now going to be [cast] but I will hear back from you.”
He signed off the note with love to his family.
Kaierua was found lying on the floor of his locked cabin with a brutal head wound and bruising to his neck.
An autopsy revealed the blow caused his death and on March 29, police opened a murder investigation.
Stuff understands he was found partially laying on his mattress which was on the floor. There was blood on his nose and there was food on his chest and neck.
His sister Nicky Kaierua, 42, revealed the poignant last note, and translated it from her native Kiribati.
“We all believe that he was murdered. But to actually say how, we can only imagine that maybe he was hit on the head with something heavy.
“The investigation, the whole thing, has been overwhelming, at times frustrating, and at times sad. But we are hoping and praying.”
The family are also searching for the man her brother replaced aboard the Win Far 636.
They believe Daniel Taku, from Papua New Guinea, left his post early because he was mistreated and are eager to talk with him.
The ship and her largely Vietnamese crew remain in Tawara, the central Pacific island’s capital.
Kiribati police have insisted the vessel remain there until their investigation is complete. Stuff understands authorities rebuffed an offer to pay a six-figure bond to allow the ship to return to the high seas.
Covid-19 restrictions have stranded the crew on the island.
Kaierua is the tenth Pacific fisheries observer to die at sea in the last decade. And his murder brought to light the mysterious deaths of two more i-Kiribati monitors in the last three years.
Maonniki Nawii was found dead in his cabin aboard the Yu Wen 301 on December 18, 2017. He’d failed to show up for breakfast. The vessel was in Papua New Guinea waters.
Antin Tamwabeti is believed to have died by suicide, onshore.
The job is vital to protect oceans and preserve fish stocks.
But it’s dangerous and isolating work and the monitors face hostility from the crews they are watching. Tuna is a multi-billion dollar industry and the Pacific is its most lucrative fishing grounds.
Alfred “Bubba” Cook, of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), responsible for fisheries regulations in the region, had implemented safety and security measures to protect observers.
This was meant to be “the bare miniumum,” he said.
“However, having something on paper does not necessarily translate into the appropriate actions on the water. More dead observers is evidence of that, so it obviously was not enough.”
There is “simply no consequence for vessels, companies [or] owners responsible for killing people,” he said.
Any vessels should be prevented from operating in the region until a thorough investigation is complete.
“If we wanted the existing measures to be truly effective, the RFMOs [regional fisheries management organisations] would mandate a compliance requirement to the effect of: if a human being turns up dead on your vessel you are effectively barred from operating in the region until the case is satisfactorily and favourably resolved as determined by the state of the observer’s origin.
“In short, if you murder an observer or crew member, you never operate in the regional fishery again. A step further would be to treat it like the IUU [illegal, unreported, and unregulated] Vessel List, where if you are listed in one region, you aren’t allowed to operate in any other region. “
Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency Deputy Director-General Kuo-Ping Lin said the Taiwanese government reported the death to the WCPFC on 4 March, ordered the crew to stop fishing and sail to Kiribati. The agency began its own investigation.
“The Fisheries Agency of Taiwan expresses condolences on the loss of the observer and hopes the families and co-workers of the deceased recover soon from the unfortunate incident,” he said.
Kuo-Ping Lin said the crew co-operated with Kiribati authorities, provided onboard CCTV records, a photo of the “first scene”, the logbook, and Kaierua’s personal effects.
The vessel would not be permitted to leave port, he said. “The operator of Win Far No. 636 tried to avoid the continuous and long-term economic loss caused from suspension of operations and requested the Kiribati authorities to consider their appeal to continue fishing operation on their own.
“This Agency still upholds its position to require the vessel operator fully cooperating with the Kiribati police for investigation. Without the permission from the Kiribati Government, [the vessel] shall not be allowed to exit Tarawa port for operation,” he said.
Kuo-Ping Lin said the agency had not received notification about an observer leaving a post early.
“If it receives any relevant message or information, it will absolutely launch necessary investigation in accordance with statutory procedures,” he said.
Nicky Kaierua says it has taken weeks to obtain a copy of her brother’s contract from the Kiribati fisheries ministry. An unsigned copy was given to his wife Tekarara Kabangaki earlier this month.
She believes her ‘conscientious’ brother would not have left on the voyage without formalising the document.
“There has been no single apology, no talk of insurance or of compensation,” she said.
Kaierua, who lives in Honiara, in the Solomon Islands, says her sister-in-law Tekarara Kabangaki is “badly affected.”
“She is strong, but she is not resting, she is not eating.”
The Ministry has not responded to Stuff’s request for comment. Central Pacific Products Limited (CCPL), the local agent for the vessel referred questions to the Ministry.
Stuff has been unable to contact Kuo Hsiung Fishery, owner of the 30-year old tuna purse seiner, or the Taiwan Tuna Purse Seiners Association……PACNEWS