Home' Work Boat World : August 2010 Contents this was a small rag of web with no fittings to trawl and all of
the boat's trawl nets were stowed in the hull until officials
dragged them on deck for a shore-side photo opportunity. He
used local TV images to show an empty awning-covered deck
when the boat was first brought into port. But the officials still
claimed that the piece of net on deck was wet when they
stopped the boat.
Khun Wicharn brought Indonesian weather records to courts to
show that it had been raining. When the Indonesian officials
argued that he had Indonesian lobsters in his frozen catch, he was
able to demonstrate that the particular species that the boat had
onboard occurs in the Somali waters where they had been fishing,
and along the west coast of India, but is not found in the Eastern
He tabled in the court letters and permits from Puntland to
show that he had caught the total catch in their waters and his
captain had the log book in support of that claim.
Finally, in August of 2009, the judge found them not guilty of
fishing in Indonesian waters but wanted the boat to be confiscated
nonetheless. There was no choice at that point but to pay bribes to
the judges, about five million Baht (US$154,000), in order to have
the vessel released. There was, of course, no compensation for the
crew expenses or the six months of lost fishing time. Sirichai
Fisheries cost for that diversion was about US$300,000.
Eritrea, the "worst government
in the world"
Khun Wicharn reserves the award of "worst government in the
world" for Eritrea.
"In March of 2007 our boat was transiting a passage in the Red
Sea 7.26 miles [11.7km] off the Eritrean coast at (Latitude 12.50.02
N & Longitude 43.11.00 E). "Their navy arrested our boat with 31
people on board including two Yemeni crewmembers," he said.
Government catch monitors claimed that the vessel had been
fishing their waters. Khun Wicharn hired an Eritrean lawyer but the
government transferred the case to a military court where lawyers
were not allowed so Khun Wicharn had to represent himself.
"I challenged their claims about our vessel's location with our
tracking data and the expert support of the French manufacturer."
The Eritrean Navy claimed to have tracked the fishing boat on
GPS but could not demonstrate that they had the technical ability.
They claimed to have seen the boat fishing with binoculars at
night from a distance of about four miles (6.4km) from their shore
navy base, but Khun Wicharn showed with the fishing boat's track
that they never came nearer than seven miles (11.3km) offshore so
this was not possible.
After hearing the evidence the judge could not make a decision
so he postponed his findings. Each time Khun Wicharn had to fly
back and forth from Thailand.
With costs mounting, he enlisted the help of the Government of
Qatar, which intervened on his part. A compromise was arranged
whereby Sirichai Fisheries agreed to withdraw the case from the court
in return for their boat and crew being released after having been
held for 13 months. The fishing boat's 30,000 litres of fuel and
catches of 34 tonnes were confiscated by the Eritrean Navy.
At 59 years of age, Khun Wicharn is devoting more time than
ever to the fishing community of Mahachai and Thailand.
Construction is about to begin on a new 300-student kindergarten
apart from the existing 3,000-student kindergarten and primary
school system that his family has already built for the community.
He is strongly committed to community-based education.
"Recently a parent came and asked me to raise the school fees,"
he said. "I asked him why and he said that he did not want his kids
going to school with those of cyclo drivers. I nearly threw him out
of my office."
Khun Wicharn has also worked with his alumni, Chiang Mai
University, to develop a satellite campus in Mahachai to offer a
Masters Degree in Business and a PhD in Knowledge Management.
Recognising that Thai universities offer Food Science programmes
while Thailand has become one of the world's major seafood
processors, he has developed courses in Seafood Science. He has
written several books detailing proposals to improve fisheries
management in Thailand but he is still not satisfied with the results.
He has built a Fisheries Museum in Mahachai but, with millions of
Baht invested, it remains a work in progress. He is now working on a
proposal to establish a new Marine Fisheries Department for the Thai
government in order to look after the complicated marine fishing
activities, not just a General Fishery Department as at present.
The list of boards on which he serves, and government
advisory positions that he occupies, is too extensive to list. He
maintains an office in Bangkok for his position on the Thai Senate
and a second office to fulfil his role as Honorary Consul for the
Republic of Mozambique.
In spite of the hectic pace which he maintains in looking after
his fishing operations and national commitments, Khun Wicharn
regularly slows his day to visit his mother, Ngek-Noi. His father
passed away recently, leaving her alone.
Her parents came from China in the early days of the twentieth
century. They had a farm with thousands of ducks, but Khun
Wicharn's mother also took a rowboat out on to the Ta Chien
River to buy fish from the boats that brought them from along the
coast. One day she met a man there who worked as a skipper of a
fishing boat from the next province, Samut Songkhran. In time the
two married and later they started the fishing company that is now
a global enterprise. At 82 she still rides her motorbike and is still an
active and major shareholder in the family company.
For all his modern ambition, Khun Wicharn Sirichai-Ekawat
remains passionately committed to his family and community.
Wicharn with his mother, Khun Ngek-Noi, who still rides a motorbike and
met her husband, Wicharn's father, on one of the vessels from which she
would row out to buy fish
WORK BOAT WORLD August 2010 21
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