Maputo — The Mozambican authorities have seized a ship flying the Namibian flag that was fishing illegally for sharks in Mozambican waters.
Fisheries Minister Cadmiel Muthemba told reporters on Friday that a licensed Mozambican fishing vessel alerted the authorities to the presence of the Namibian ship, the "Antillas Reefer", off the coast of the central province of Zambezia on 23 June.
The Ministry investigated and ordered the ship to head south and put in at Maputo port. "Eventually the ship came voluntarily", said Muthemba. "The captain knew there would be serious consequences for disobeying".
The ship and its 36 member crew, most of them Spaniards, arrived in Maputo on 5 July. When fishing inspectors weighed the "Antillas Reefer" cargo, they found that it was carrying 43 tonnes of sharks, four tonnes of shark fin, 1.8 tonnes of shark tail, 11.3 tonnes of shark liver, and 20 tonnes of shark oil. Shark fins are eaten as an expensive delicacy in Asia, while shark liver and oil are used for medicinal purposes. The total value of this catch was put at around five million US dollars.
Also found on board were 65 tonnes of bait (frozen squid and fish), and illegal fishing gear. The "Antillas Reefer" was using long lines, with anchors and weights that could keep the lines at depths of up to two kilometres, allowing the vessel to catch deep sea sharks.
The ship was unlicensed, it was taking species that may not be fished in Mozambican waters, and it was using banned gear. In addition, the captain's statements about the cargo proved to be untrue - he seriously understated the quantity of shark fins and liver on board.
The Fisheries Ministry has imposed a fine of 4.5 million US dollars on the ship's owners. In addition it has confiscated the ship and everything on board.
The owners have eight days to appeal to Mozambique's Administrative Tribunal - but the case seems so open and shut that an appeal would be useless.
"Our objective", declared Muthemba, "is not to seize boats, but to dissuade illegal fishing".
The "Antillas Reefer" was brought to Mozambican waters by a Mozambican company, Sabpal Pescas, which was working with the ship's owner, the Walvis Bay registered Ompala Fishing Pty Ltd. Sabpal told the Ministry that the vessel would fish for tuna - but before any licence was issued, and before the obligatory inspection of the fishing gear, the "Antillas Reefer" was already hard at work, scouring the Mozambican seas, not for tuna, but for shark.
It turns out that Ompala is a joint venture between the Uruguayan company Mabenal, and the Namibian company Gongala Fishing. Now it so happens that Mabenal and Gongala are also the owners of the company Omunkete Fishing, which is already in deep trouble over illegal fishing in the Antarctic Ocean.
On 1 July, a New Zealand court found that Omunkete's vessel, the Paloma V, was involved in illegal fishing in the Antarctic for toothfish, an endangered species (sometimes known as Chilean seabass). This makes it likely that the Paloma V will be blacklisted by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which would prevent it from entering any ports in countries that are signatories to this commission (which include Namibia and South Africa).
Although Omunkete pleaded innocence, the New Zealand Fisheries Minister, Jim Anderton, said the "Paloma V"'s computer records revealed that it had contact with known illegal fishing vessels and had resupplied them at sea. But the New Zealand authorities did not confiscate the "Paloma V" which subsequently returned to Walvis Bay.
Mabenal's address and telephone number in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, are exactly the same as that of the company Fadilur, owner of the vessel "Hammer", which is on a list of ships known to have engaged in illegal fishing. In 2006, Fadilur, and its Spanish owner, Antonio Vidal Pego, were convicted in a United States court for the attempted illegal import and sale of toothfish.
Since Ompala and Omunkete have the same owners and are registered in the same port, one may wonder whether they are really separate companies at all.
Muthemba promised that Sabpal Pescas will lose its licence, and that the government will report all the companies involved with the "Antillas Reefer" to the international organisations that deal with the fight against illegal fishing.