Minister Sued Over Korean Boats
The saga of the Korean fishing boats takes on a new dimension as the owners take the government to court seeking to quash a decision withdrawing their permission to fish in Bahamian waters.
Attorneys for Earlin Williams, president of Netsiwill Holdings Limited, want the Supreme Court to overturn a determination made by Agriculture and Fisheries Minister V. Alfred Gray that the vessels were not fully Bahamian owned.
His attorneys plan to argue that Minister Gray had no power under law to cancel the permit, as the boats were fully owned by a Bahamian entity.
Mr. Williams insisted Thursday that, "The boats were mine at the outset of the mortgage."
His company reportedly secured the $2.5 million mortgage from Koreans for the vessels. Mr. Williams has since said that the Koreans turned ownership of the boats over to him for $1.
After determining that the boats were not fully Bahamian owned, Minister Gray revoked Netsiwill's permit to conduct commercial fishing in Bahamian waters. The Department of Fisheries also revoked the registration certificate for the vessels.
"I'm still curious as to how the Customs authorities were in a position to revoke my duty-free status," Mr. Williams told the Journal.
He added that the Minister "misdirected himself" in the actions he took.
"I'm going to court to compel the Minister to follow his statutory duty," Mr. Williams said.
After the revocation of the permit and certificate, the Bahamas Customs Department ordered Mr. Williams to pay $650,000 in customs duty as the boats were no longer duty free.
The action by Mr. Williams would come only days after the government took the matter to court, asking for an order of condemnation which would give the government the freedom to dispose of the vessels in the manner it sees fit.
Minister Gray told the Journal Thursday night that the government is seeking to "confiscate" the vessels so that they can be sold to the public.
Mr. Williams has said that in the worst-case scenario, he would find the $650,000 needed to clear the boats, 15 of which are impounded at Morgan's Bluff, Andros. The larger vessel, known as the mother ship, remains docked off Grand Bahama.
But he indicated Thursday that push has not yet come to shove.
Mr. Williams said that his fishing operation would be "a super golden opportunity for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries under the new regime of the Progressive Liberal Party government to show its ability to think outside the box and to live up to the fundamentals of economic empowerment for a forgotten people."
He also said that, "The special interests and other peculiar proclivities have kidnapped the Minister's attention and paralysed the Cabinet and personalities are being given centre stage when the role of the government is to lift up the people."
But Minister Gray said he acted within the law when he revoked the permit and certificate.
"I stand by the position we took," he told the Journal. "Fishing in The Bahamas is reserved for Bahamians and [Mr. Williams and his group] could not prove that [they fully owned the vessels.]"
Minister Gray said that there were several infractions of the law as it relates to the proposed fishing venture.
He said Central Bank approval was never granted for the purchase of the vessels.
The Minister said that Mr. Williams was "going in the wrong direction" in taking the matter to court.
But he added that, "They have a right to file. The courts are available for everybody."