Sterkoders Hold Economy of Akros Ltd.
Interview with V.B. Vorobyev, general director of ZAO Akros
A batch of sterkoder-type vessels came Norway. The contract was signed with Rybcomflot in Norwegian shipyard Sterkoder in the late 1980s, which had signed an agreement for blue super trawlers built in Spain and fillet trawlers in Germany for collective farms in Sakhalin. The batch included 20 units. Initial financing of 16 units was carried by the Moscow Peopleís Bank 20 per cent of the original price. At the beginning the boats were assigned to Sakhalin, and when the first group was heading for the island, KMPOís Fish Fleet Administration joined the project, in the early 1990. At that time I worked as the Head of the Foreign Relation Department in KMPO (Kamchatka Interkolkhoz Fish Association); my proposal to acquire bare-boat charted vessels was approved at administration meeting. Although the idea found no support from the chief of FFA (Alexander I. Bikmukhamedov in those days) and even was opposed by some, but still there were old wise representatives of collective farms in KMPO and they backed me up. Thus we purchased these vessels and sent crews to accept them. The first boat had name Vitus Bering. The team consisted of members of KMPOís administration. The next one was called Vilyuchinsk. We have six boat of this kind in total. In general, they helped Akros to get to its feet due to their high economic efficacy, moreover we had no limits for Pollack catch as well as for other species in the beginning of 1990s. First we hired foreign specialists, now only our professionals work either from Akros, or from other Russian firms, who are mostly Russians.
Twenty ships were built according to this project. Ten years have passed. How many sterkoders are there in Russia now?
We have six. One in Primorsky kolkhoz Novy Mir. In Sakhalin and in our UTRF (Trawl and Refrigerated Cargo Fleets Administration) none, they all were arrested abroad and sold to repay debts.
Will you explain how Akros managed to preserve all vessels?
The main thing is that they were built for Rybcomflot needs. Infamous now, but then we couldnít suspect so. The first who defaulted on credit payment were Sakhalin ships. When default in payment became immense, the bank imposed cross-default, in other words, if Akros had paid for its vessels, they, nevertheless, might have apprehended them. It began happening in 1994. We took precautions and not a single sterkoder went abroad for a long time, as they could be arrested. Some disregarded it, out trawl fleet also forfeited: it sent two ships to repair to China Admiral Zavoyko and Sterkoder where the Moscow Peopleís Bank arrested them. In that way many Sakhalin ships were taken and dispatched to operate in other countries. In general, of course, it was a poorly developed system on national basis. All this coincided with collapse of the Soviet Union, boundless democracy when everything was permitted but no one bore any responsibility. In the final analysis Akros in my opinion benefited only because it came from kolkhoz system and Novy Mir as well. That is why they have boats for they treat property differently. We thought it all belonged to us. Nowadays we are real owners. People from collective farms even in the past had another, careful approach to economy, money, to everything we created and create. It belongs to us. Today the approach is the same. If you visit our ten-year-old sterkoders, you will see them look like new ones. Foreigners tell us: itís unbelievable that vessels, which took part in fisheries for ten years, maintain good operation condition as well as aesthetic look.
Valery Borisovich, let us compare Akros with SORKS. You both run kolkhoz-type system and both have bare-boat charted fleet. I mean not only Norwegian but also German sterkoders which came to Sakhalin in full in 1994-95. It was E.A. Yarygin who told me that Akros in Kamchatka was the only business where fleet problem could be successfully solved by concentrating it in one hands.
Itís true, Sakhalin chose another way while distributing fillet freezer trawlers they were given to collective farms and got to various owners. We keep everything in one hands common maintenance base, the same manpower policy, our vessels station in Petropavlovsk, their in Pusan. They donít have officers on permanent basis. With first vessels received in 1994, people in Sakhalin gained our specialists over promising them high salaries. Later some of them came back, others remained drifters settled down neither here nor there. Nevertheless the staff reshuffle gave a certain result: vessels lost their owners. Most tragic in it is that they are operated, maintained, re-manned by foreigners a German company. They station in Pusan and it also should be considered. I doubt whether they know how to operate the fleet and are able to develop a scheme similar to that me use in Akros. Therefore this promiscuity, subordination to different authorities, staff reshuffle can result in nothing good. For example, on our Velyuchinsk the captain has been working since its first days, from the moment it was built, on other boards those who advanced from navigators. Sterkorders mean a shock-group of vessels for us, which helped us gain to feet and develop. At present the primary income comes from these boats; old ones which only fish and deliver feedstock for further processing yield a loss, as a rule. Starkoders cover losses. We decided not to reduce fleet deliberately, to keep jobs. Although now due to sharp decrease of quotas we have nothing but to cut it down. We had almost no middle-capacity-trawler-type vessels fishing Pollack this year. Just a few, mostly quotas were given to six sterkoders and BATM (Large-capacity Autonomous Freezer Trawler) Akros to avoid bankruptcy, to cover losses of the fleet, which lies idle. It concerns the year 2000. It is difficult to foresee what we will have in 2001, but we are not much optimistic about it. Quotas for Pollack fishing in the Sea of Okhotsk as well as for other seafood are expected to be diminished.
In 2001 you at last become owners of the sterkoders?
Yes, considering the situation with Rybcomflot I had to work with the Moscow Peopleís Bank for six years and look for investor to refund these vessels. Finally we did it in 1998. In 1999 we redeemed boats from the Bank for a low price by refunding. We had to pay less for them.
You mean you bought them for a real cost, not extortionate one assigned by Rybcomflot fleecing fishermen and the state?
Yes, for a real market cost. In 1999 we paid ahead and are planning to do the same in 2000, and in 2001 buy them eventually out. The main thing is that these vessels do not belong to Rybcomflot anymore and the situation is favorable for us.
Are you the only business which doesnít depend on Rybcomflot?
The Novy Mir collective farm also doesnít. It has Bukhta Nayezdnik fillet freezer. They receive help from the same investor like we do. We have already fulfilled out our financial obligations and the State Fisheries Committee no longer liable to the creditor bank for our ships in this project.
Interview by S. Vakhrin