Eveline de Klerk
WALVIS BAY – At least 120 seamen and their about 600 dependents were left hanging this week after a Samherji-linked fishing vessel allegedly skipped town on Wednesday night.
The vessel in question, Saga, allegedly left Walvis Bay on Wednesday evening under the impression that it was being taken for repairs in Las Palmas in Spain. The vessel is the property of Saga Seafood and is under charter to Esja Seafood Limited, a Samherji subsidiary company in Cyprus – and one of its main international holding companies.
The Icelandic company Samherji is at the centre of the international fishing bribery scandal implicating former Namibian ministers Sacky Shanghala and Bernhard Esau as well as local businessmen.
Samherji reportedly secured access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibia by paying bribes of around N$150 million to politicians and businessmen between 2012 and 2018. Saga was one of the trawlers used for the horse mackerel quota.
Last week, Samherji issued a statement saying that leaving Namibia will be done in close dialogue with relevant authorities and in line with international standards and law. But one of the seamen, Frans Shilongo, yesterday told New Era that they only received text messages on Wednesday morning informing them that they needed to remove their luggage from the vessel.
“We found it strange as we were supposed to leave for a fishing trip. Normally a crew of 15 will accompany the vessel if it goes for repairs, hence this did not sit well with us,” Shilongo explained.
He said no prior communication with regard to the repairs came from the company although rumours that the vessel was leaving reached them.
Leonard Shinedima, also a seaman on the vessel, said they could not get any clear answers from the company office in Walvis Bay and were only told the vessel would be gone for six months.
“There is apparently no quota to catch, hence the vessel is going to operate in Mauritania. We also heard that the vessel is going on repairs to Las Palmas in Spain. These people are not giving us clear answers,” he said.
The fishermen are now worried that they might not get any retrenchment packages. Following an urgent meeting yesterday morning, a concerned Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) branch manager Josef Makanga said they were told Tunacor would take over the vessel. However, the two parties could not reach an agreement in terms of the crew.
“Tunacor only wants the vessel as they already have the workers of Namsov that need to be accommodated, but we cannot allow it. What purpose does it serve if you dump these ones in the street in order to employ the ones already in the streets? It does not make sense,” he said.
He added that another meeting would take place on Monday to get more clarity on the issue. “What we currently know is that Saga Seafood will still be in operation for the next six months and after that they will be taken over by Tunacor. What will happen to the employees is our main concern,” Makanga said.
Tunacor’s general manager Peya Hitula, upon enquiry yesterday, denied that they are in talks to buy the vessel. “We had discussions in general but that does not mean we are taking over. It is nothing more than that. People are definitely jumping the gun and even if we wanted to buy the vessel we would have done it the same way we did with Namsov, open and transparent,” Hitula said.
Meanwhile, a source in the Directorate of Maritime Affairs yesterday told New Era that the ship agent visited their offices with two versions regarding the vessel.
“Initially, it was going for repairs in Cape Town – then they returned and said the owners want it to go to Las Palmas instead as the vessel will not be fishing anymore, but would be deregistered,” the source, who requested anonymity, said.
Saga is part of the three vessels used by Samherji. None of the officials from the Saga Seafood office at Walvis Bay were prepared to comment yesterday.
One of their vessels, Heinaste, was impounded late last year by the Namibian authorities after it was caught fishing in a restricted zone area near Walvis Bay. Two captains, Icelander Angrimur Kristinn Brynjolfson (67) and Russian national Fetisov Iurii (58), who captains the Venus trawler, were arrested and paid N$100 000 bail each. The duo allegedly contravened the Marine Act by fishing in a restricted area.
Brynjolfson is expected to appear in court today for a continuation of his case. Heinaste is currently embroiled in an ownership dispute with local shareholders.