Sealord employing fishermen from Covid-19 hot spot Russia due to lack of 'qualified' Kiwis

Sealord is using Russian crew for their deep water vessels over New Zealanders because of a lack of "trained and qualified fishers in New Zealand".

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Sealord CEO Doug Paulin discusses the issue that’s in the spotlight due to multiple crew contracting Covid-19. Source: Breakfast

That's according to Sealord CEO Doug Paulin who spoke to TVNZ1's Breakfast following multiple Covid-19 infections among a group of Russian and Ukrainian fishermen bought into New Zealand to work on Sealord's fishing boats. They're in quarantine at Sudima Hotel in Christchurch.

In total 235 fishermen from Russia and Ukraine by have been brought into New Zealand by Sealord, Independent Fisheries and Maruha Nichiro.

Russia is the country with the fourth highest number of Covid-19 infections, more than 1,438,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Ukraine has nearly 325,000 Covid-19 cases.

Paulin says two of the company's nine deep water vessels are crewed by Russians, with the vessels being "very technical in nature".

Paulin said the company has been using Russian crews for 25 years, "so those crews have been fishing in New Zealand waters a long period of time, and indeed, some of the crew that have been in the Sudima [Hotel] have been with us for 25 years".

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Two of today’s 25 cases are workplace contacts of an infected port worker. Eighteen others are foreign fisherman isolating in Christchurch. Source: 1 NEWS

The other seven vessels are operated with predominantly New Zealand crew, as well as "a few foreign crew members," Paulin says, adding that there "just aren't enough trained and qualified fishers in New Zealand".

He said one of the Russian vessels was removed four years ago and replaced with a new one predominantly crewed by New Zealanders with the intention to "continue to do that over time".

Paulin said the vessels operate on a six months on, six months off schedule, with round trips taking around four weeks.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said on Breakfast earlier this morning that while fishing is a "critical" industry, there "aren't enough people in New Zealand who can do that work".

He said it's something the Government wants changed, adding that it's "not something that we want to see continuing".

"We have to recognise, though, in the meantime, you can't just put a whole crew of untrained, inexperienced people out to sea for four weeks."