Samherji, the Icelandic company embroiled in the Fishrot corruption scandal says it is willing to fulfil all its obligations in Namibia. This reassurance comes amid rising fears following the controversial departure of two of its vessels earlier in the week.
There are further concerns that its last remaining deep-sea trawler, Heinaste, might make a beeline for the open seas to escape any potential legal entanglements.
In a statement released Thursday, the company said it is pleased that a previous case concerning the Heinaste and its captain Angrimur Brynjolfsson has been resolved in court. The captain of the vessel has been slapped with a fine of N$950,000 or 12 years imprisonment by the Walvis Bay Magistrate’s Court to conclude that case.
Captain Brynjolfsson was convicted in an earlier court appearance for fishing in restricted waters along the Namibian coast. Bottom trawling - dragging nets across the seafloor to scoop up fish - can decimate fish species indiscriminately. It is illegal in Namibian waters. Net dragging also stirs up the sediment lying on the seabed which damages the marine ecology.
Such dredging from the seabed further displaces and harms some marine species. This causes pollutants to mix into plankton. These small food-fish are consumed by larger species. Any pollutants can move into the food chain and create harmful algae blooms or oxygen-deficient dead zones. The prosecution’s case was supported through a submission by the chief fisheries biologist Bean Mbeurora Tjizoo. He explained the dangers of bottom trawling on commercial species such as sardines, pilchards and juvenile horse mackerel and hake.
The application to have the Heinaste forfeited to the State, was however dismissed.
There are growing calls for the assets of Samherji to be attached. The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) is leading efforts to go after the remaining company assets in Namibia. Samherji has announced its intention to close its operations in Namibia. It has been winding up its affairs and redeploying its assets to eventually reach that end.
“We are in the process of reaching out to all relevant Namibian authorities in order to explore common ground for the most beneficial solution. The solution – at least temporarily- will involve chartering the Heinaste to local operators,” the interim CEO of Samherji, Björgólfur Johannsson said in the statement.
The first vessel to leave Namibia was the Saga. This vessel is said to be undergoing routine maintenance and repair in an unnamed foreign jurisdiction. It was followed by the departure of the Geysir, which is said to be fishing in Mauritanian waters. Both vessels, it has since emerged, left with the full knowledge and approval of the Directorate of Maritime Affairs. This implies that there was nothing secretive or untoward about their departure.
The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), which is the official opposition party, has demanded answers from the Director of the ACC, Paulus Noa. He is demanding to know why the assets of the company have not been attached, while those of the Namibian accomplices known as the ‘Fishrot Six’, including bank accounts, have been frozen.
Meanwhile, the departure of the two vessels have plunged the employment fate of over 200 fishermen into uncertainty. However, Björgólfur yesterday gave assurances that everything will be done to find a ‘balanced solution’ that will benefit the workers, Namibia and the minority shareholders in the Heinaste.