‘It’s a mystery for us’: the puzzling death at sea of a Tongan fisheries observer | Tonga


On the morning of Monday 27 September, a crew member on board the Hsinlong 1 fishing vessel went to fetch his buddy Arnold Latu for breakfast.

Latu, in his mid-30s, was the monitoring officer of the Chinese language-owned, Fiji-flagged vessel, employed by the Tongan authorities to test that the quantity of fish caught on its three-week voyage was authorized and appropriately recorded.

The Hsinlong 1 had nearly accomplished its work and was berthed near Pangaimotu Island, off the shores of Nuku’alofa, awaiting the OK from native authorities to berth at the Tuimatamoana fishing wharf.

“We had been nearly to have breakfast and prepare for the vessel to go in to the wharf to berth and one of the crew members had gone to name Latu to return and have breakfast,” mentioned a senior crew member onboard the vessel at the time, who didn’t want to be named.

“The crew member shouted to us that Latu was not responding to his calls and was mendacity on his mattress. We went in and touched his physique which was already chilly. We had been shocked and didn’t know what to do.”

Latu’s buddies keep in mind him as a onerous employee, a pleasant one that obtained together with everybody, and a “good listener and one who’s all the time eager to assist anybody”. He was additionally described as a “marine man” who liked the seas and his job at Fisheries.

Arnold Latu (right), pictured with friends, worked for the Tongan fisheries department as a monitor; he was described as a ‘marine man’ who loved his job.
Arnold Latu (proper), pictured with buddies, labored for the Tongan fisheries division as a monitor; he was described as a ‘marine man’ who liked his job. {Photograph}: Equipped

His longtime buddy Benny Jagroop, who was not on the vessel, described him as a “little brother” who got here from a powerful neighbourhood, however labored with a native group known as Falepiliki (brick home) to attempt to assist younger males to remain in class, and keep out of bother.

“Latu’s death remains to be a mystery for us,” mentioned Jagroop. “So for those who ask what [is] the hypothesis round Arnold’s death, for actual I do not know.”

After they discovered him useless, crew members alerted the ship’s captain, and Tongan police had been contacted.

However almost three months later and regardless of calls for a clear investigation from worldwide our bodies, there aren’t any solutions about what precipitated the apparently wholesome man’s death, and neither police, nor the authorities of Tonga had been keen to discuss the case.

Dr Tuikolongahau Halafihi, chief govt of Tonga’s Ministry of Fisheries, mentioned they weren’t capable of launch any data as a result of the case was nonetheless being investigated by Tonga police.

“I gained’t be capable of offer you any details about this case as we’re nonetheless awaiting the report from police and well being. We’re nonetheless after this report however it’s nonetheless with the police,” he mentioned in an e-mail response to questions from the Guardian. Tonga police didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Regardless of calls from non-government organisations like WWF and the Affiliation of Skilled Observers (APO), the trigger of death and outcomes of the postmortem examination haven’t been revealed by authorities.

The WWF wrote about Latu in its December place paper, saying that there had been no report of the trigger of death, nor was there any data to “counsel he was sick or injured” earlier than his death.

Bubba Prepare dinner, WWF western and central Pacific tuna programme supervisor, known as for transparency and a thorough investigation of any reported deaths or incidents involving fisheries observers.

“In the case of any lacking human, from a vessel, [if] there’s a death of anybody, whether or not it’s crew member or a fisheries observer, there must be an investigation into that fatality. And it must be a thorough investigation and the details about that must be made public,” he mentioned.

Hsinlong Fisheries Ltd, the proprietor of Hsinlong 1, didn’t reply to detailed questions from the Guardian. Nor did Tonga police.

‘Should you’re not defending all, you’re not defending any’

There is no such thing as a proof of foul play in Latu’s death, nevertheless the uncertainty as to how he died has attracted the consideration of the WWF and the APO, which monitor the security of fishing observers round the world.

Being an observer, which includes monitoring fishing practices and catches to verify boats observe the guidelines, is a harmful job that may put observers in battle with the crews on the vessels on which they’re working – typically a whole bunch, and even 1000’s, of kilometres from the nearest port.

According to the Association for Professional Observers, there have been greater than a dozen instances of observers dying on the job since 2009 alone, together with a quantity from the Pacific. Eritara Aati Kaierua from Kiribati died onboard a fishing vessel in 2020. His household have severe issues about the investigation performed into his death.

Antin Tamwabeti, additionally from Kiribati, died on one other boat in Could 2019, in circumstances which haven’t been reported, although his case was dominated a suicide. In accordance with the firm that employed him, he was harassed and threatened by the crew of the Taiwanese-flagged boat he was on shortly earlier than his death.

The WWF has argued that Latu’s death has “uncovered a vital potential weak point in regional observer security and safety measures associated to jurisdictional ambiguity”. As a result of Latu’s deployment was categorised as a nationwide journey and the vessel was fishing in Tonga’s waters, Latu was not given security gear that he would have been given if the journey had been in worldwide waters and had fallen inside the context of a Regional Observer Programme journey.

However the WWF says this could not matter.

“We’ve made good developments to addressing the questions of safety with observers … however they didn’t go far sufficient,” mentioned Prepare dinner. “And I believe that’s evidenced by Arnold Latu’s state of affairs, as a result of he was on a nationwide journey, there was some jurisdictional ambiguity round who was accountable, on what guidelines are topic to with respect to security. And our place is, for those who’re not defending all of the observers, you’re not defending any of them.”

In a doc shared with the Guardian by the Affiliation for Skilled Observers (APO), Samuela Bulimetuira, the supervisor of security compliance and response at the Maritime Security Authority of Fiji, wrote that since Latu’s death occurred in Tongan waters, Tonga was accountable for investigating. Tonga and the firm that owned the vessel “have an obligation to report all incidents particularly deaths onboard to the Flag State Authority [Fiji] as quickly as is practicable”.

Bulimetuira didn’t reply to questions from the Guardian.