Buyers Want Korean Boats
Government officials intend to seek a court order to have the 16 Korean fishing boats "condemned", which would give them the freedom to dispose of the vessels as they see fit, the Journal has learnt.
The 16 boats at the heart of the controversy that involved Korean investors were due to be auctioned before the end of the month, with unnamed buyers already expressing an interest in purchasing the vessels.
But those buyers will have to wait a little while longer for the opportunity to purchase the boats.
Fifteen of the boats remain impounded at Morgan's Bluff, Andros, and another one - that would have served as a processing ship - is in Grand Bahama, nearly four months after Fisheries Minister V. Alfred Gray told parliamentarians that the boats will be removed from The Bahamas "forthwith".
A government source conceded this week that Minister Gray was speaking without full knowledge of the law when he said the boats will be removed forthwith.
The Department of Fisheries revoked the registration certificates that were held by Netsiwill Holdings Limited after determining that the boats were not 100 percent Bahamian owned. Netsiwill principal, Earlin Williams, has since said that the Korean investors turned ownership of the boats over to him for $1.
He maintains that the revocation action should be reversed now that he has solved the issue of the "Bahamianization" requirement.
The boats remain in the possession of The Bahamas Customs Department, which said in a release last December that, "The vessels may not be moved or interfered with in any way without the express permission of the Department. All 16 vessels are expected to leave Bahamian waters in due course of law after the completion of logistical arrangements for their removal from the jurisdiction of The Bahamas."
But after determining that Mr. Williams and his company had broken no law as it relates to Customs requirements, the department advised them to pay the $650,000 owed in duties. The company paid $25,000 in stamp tax when the boats came in in October.
They were advised to pay duties after the revocation of the registration certificates, which meant that the items were no longer classified as duty-free.
Mr. Williams said on a Radio Love 97 programme in January that in the worst-case scenario, he would find the more than $600,000 to pay the customs duties for the boats. But he did not return calls to the Journal on Tuesday and Wednesday to answer whether he had come up with the money.
The Journal has now learnt that government authorities do not want Customs to accept the payment if it is offered by Mr. Williams.
The Customs Management Act gives Customs officials the authority to put up for sale any item for which duties have not been paid after a given period of time.
Months after waiting for payment, Customs authorities appear poised to auction the vessels.
Minister Gray has explained that the registration certificates were revoked because the specifics regarding the Korean ownership of the boats were unknown to the government at the time the applications were submitted.
But Mr. Williams has said, "The Government of The Bahamas acted prematurely and acted without all the facts."
A $2.5 million mortgage had been attached to the vessels.
State Minister for Finance James Smith said Tuesday that the matter was now before the Office of the Attorney General and directed the Journal to Director of Legal Affairs Rhonda Bain.
But she was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.