After almost two years of relentless efforts to recoup their monies, a group of distressed ex-fishermen marched to prominent lawyer Norman Tjombe’s office Tuesday, demanding answers.
The disgruntled ex-fishermen were employed by ArticNam on the Heinaste vessel, which is implicated in the Fishrot scandal, that saw the country’s fisheries resources allegedly plundered at an industrial scale.
Tjombe told New Era late Tuesday that it has been difficult to track the assets of the fishing company.
“When we approached him [Tjombe], he promised to handle the case and [that] it won’t take time. On our second appointment, he told us the case has three processes and we believed him because he is our lawyer but it has been difficult to reach him since then,” lamented Ipinge Immanuel, one of the aggrieved former fishermen.
Tjombe is legally representing the group in fighting their case, after ArticNam failed to meet the deadline to pay the N$1.8 million settlement awarded against them in the Walvis Bay Labour Court on 24 June 2021.
They claim that earlier this year, Tjombe assured them that he would conclude the case within two months.
However, as of now, they have not received any communication from the human rights lawyer, and their enquiries about the progress of the case, they assert, have been ignored.
The group travelled from Walvis Bay to Windhoek in search of answers.
Upon their arrival at Tjombe’s office in Eros, they were reportedly instructed by his office staff to meet him at the court.
Subsequently, he communicated to them that they should wait until 17h00 on Tuesday, as that would be the time when he would be available.
“We already don’t have money, however, we had to solicit funds to make this mission possible, but he keeps giving us excuses,” added Immanuel.
He expressed concern that their case might never reach a resolution, especially given that they have already paid N$20 000 to Tjombe.
“That money we borrowed from someone promising to refund him when we receive our money, we can’t afford another lawyer,” he said.
The group intended to issue Tjombe an ultimatum – either to provide them with an update on the progress of the case or refund a portion of the money they have already paid him.
ArticNam is a joint venture between Icelandic partners, Samherji and three Namibian joint venture companies: Sinco Fishing, Yukor Fishing and Epango Fishing.
The Namibian shareholders held 51% shares in ArcticNam, which employed 107 people, including the 23 fishermen.
The fishermen lost their jobs in 2019 when the company replaced them with temporary workers who were employed for about 10 months. They were also not offered severance packages.
As a result, the crew members approached the labour court to hold ArcticNam accountable.
The vessel itself was impounded due to the ongoing Fishrot case but was later released by the prosecutor general and sold to Tunacor Fisheries in 2021.
According to court documents, ArcticNam was ordered to pay 18 fishermen who were employed as crewmen each N$73 080, two fishermen who were employed as deckhands N$79 164 each, the vessel’s former motorman N$157 500 and two carpenters N$97 380 each.
The payments are based on their monthly salaries over 12 months.
“The applicants sought an award including fish commission and housing allowance, unfortunately, an arbitrator cannot award an allowance or commission not worked for but can only award reinstatement and or loss of income,” reads the settlement document.
The court ordered the company to pay out the ex-fishermen on or before 30 July 2021.
New Era understands ArticNam has been dissolved.
The once-thriving community of seafarers is grappling with a series of tribulations following their mass retrenchment from ArticNam.
For many of these ex-fishermen, the transition from a life at sea to life on the streets has proven to be a daunting challenge.
They find themselves between rocks and hard places, daily, with no indication where the next meal will come from.
“Life is hard. It’s so difficult to get a job nowadays, especially for some of us with limited skills, I have only known how to work in the sea,” said Markus Gabriel (47).
Gabriel has been working for the company for eight years.
Another ex-fisherman, Joshua Hafeni said since he lost his job, he has been under threats to pay what he owes.
Hafeni has found himself in debts as he cannot afford honouring his loan obligations or instalments leading to his blacklisting.
“I also have five children who I am unable to take care of and their mothers are not working, they solely relied on me and we are slowly drowning into poverty,” said Hafeni.
Some have turned to odd jobs to make a living.
Approached for a comment, Tjombe said the matter is far from being resolved as they are still trying to locate the assets of ArticNam.