WALVIS BAY - The authorities have once again seized horse mackerel trawler Heinaste just days after a court ordered for its release.
The Namibian Police impounded the controversial vessel on Friday as part of the Fishrot bribery scandal.
Nelius Becker, the head of the police criminal investigation directorate, said the authorities seized the vessel on the basis of Article 28 of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA).
Ironically, the vessel was expected to be delivered today in Busan, South Korea, after Esja Investments sold it to a Russian company last year. Samherji last week said it was looking at deploying Heinaste in Namibian waters.
Esja Investments is a subsidiary of the Icelandic firm, Samherji, that is implicated in the N$150 million Fishrot scandal.
Heinaste was initially impounded on 22 November last year and has been guarded at the port of Walvis Bay after its captain Arngrímur Brynjólfsson was arrested for fishing in a protected zone. Brynjólfsson pleaded guilty and paid a fine of N$950 000 last week, while Walvis Bay magistrate Rhivermo Williams on Wednesday ordered Heinaste’s release to its owners. The Namibian authorities initially wanted the vessel to be forfeited to the State. However, Williams on Wednesday, during her sentencing of the vessel captain indicated the State did not have sufficient evidence to have the vessel forfeited and ordered the vessel’s papers to be released. The vessel was apparently planning to leave Namibia on Friday. Its Namibian licence already expired on 31 December last year, according to insiders. However, Becker explained on Friday that the necessary requirements in terms of Article 28 was established, such as that the vessel was used in relation of the Samherji alleged bribery of Namibian officials. She added they are working around the clock to seize more assets of foreign companies implicated in the bribery scandal. According to Becker, sufficient grounds existed for the action to be taken shortly after Williams released the vessel. “We also feared the company in control of it might order it to leave Namibian waters and jeopardise our investigation,” he explained. Samherji-linked Esja Holdings once owned the Heinaste vessel. However, Sinco Fishing and Epango Fishing were among five Namibian companies that formed a joint venture with Samherji HF as part of Esja Holdings and co-owned Heinaste. The Namibian shareholders paid N$260 million to co-own the vessel, before Esja Holdings sold the vessel to a Russian company, despite numerous bids by their Namibian partners to stop the sale of the vessel.
Meanwhile, close to 210 fishermen who were left without jobs when two Samherji-linked vessels, Saga and Geysir, left the country several days ago without prior notification, will receive an incentive equivalent to two weeks salary. This incentive will not affect the monthly salary due to them or any other packages to be negotiated in future. It forms part of an agreement signed on Friday at Walvis Bay between the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Namibia Food and Allied Union (Nafau) and Saga Seafood – the Samherji company that owns the vessels.
The agreement comes after the vessels left Namibia with Samherji, explaining that Saga left for repairs in Spain, while Geysir left to go fish in Mauritania because they did not have any local quota anymore. Sales and operations manager of Saga Seafood Jackie Thiardt indicated the incentive would be paid by this week Thursday, while another meeting is expected to take place on 24 February to finalise the way forward.
Both unions noted they were not entirely satisfied with the agreement, but that it was better than nothing for the fishermen who are not without jobs.
NUNW vice president Phillip Munenguni after the four-hour long meeting demanded the management of Samherji be present in the next meeting scheduled to finalise a clear way forward for the fishermen.
“Hence, government also needs to join our quest for a lasting solution as we cannot add more men to the streets. It is clear the Fishrot saga is more devastating for the ordinary fishermen and their families,” Munenguni said.