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Sea going workers get small respite in vessel saga

Sea going workers get small respite in vessel saga

Niël Terblanché

THE Heinaste super trawler that is impounded in the port of Walvis Bay was ordered to be released by a Walvis Bay magistrate after the Icelandic captain of the vessel was sentenced to pay fines totalling nearly a million Namibian Dollars.


The vessel was impounded by the Namibian Police after the arrest of its master, Arngrimur Kristiann Brynjolfsson, nearly two months ago.


Brynjolfsson earlier this week pleaded guilty on charges of harvesting fish in sensitive areas off the northern coast of Namibia and was sentenced to pay fines totalling N$950 000.


Magistrate Rhivermo Williams, while handing down sentence on Brynjolfsson, issued a secondary order that the Heinsate which is under the control of Heinaste Investments be released back to the company. Samherji, the Icelandic fisheries company at the centre of the fisheries bribing scandal that has taken Namibia by storm is a shareholder along with three Namibian fishing companies in Heinaste Investments that owns the fishing trawler.


Walvis Bay Icelandic captain trawler
Pictures: Seagoing workers at the offices of Saga Seafood in Walvis Bay while they waited to hear what the future with regards to further employment, will hold for them. – Photo: Niël Terblanché


In issuing the order Magistrate Williams stated that the owner of the vessel cannot be prejudiced by the actions of the accused and the court finds that the application by the state for the forfeiture of the vessel is dismissed.


In the meantime the interim Chief Executive Officer of Samherji, Björgólfur Johannsson, said in a statement that the company is pleased that the case concerning the vessel Heinaste and its captain was resolved in court.


“This triggers new opportunities, and the Samherji group is dedicated for these opportunities to be realised in Namibia. Samherji will now work intensively and efficiently for deployment of the Heinaste in Namibian waters. 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, though it might be temporary, will involve chartering the Heinaste to local operators. The most important for the Samherji group is to find a balanced solution that benefits local workers, Namibian society and the current minority shareholders in the Heinaste,” he said.


Johannsson said the Saga is undergoing maintenance and repair that was planned a while back. Geysir is currently fishing in Mauritania as none of Samherji’s subsidiaries were issued quota for the ship.


Before Samherji’s divestment in Namibia is finalized, its relevant subsidiaries will fulfil all obligations towards crew members who have worked for these companies. Samherji representatives have met with the affected fishermen and their unions. The companies in question will honor their obligations towards all employees. All personnel will be treated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations,” said Johannsson
With regards to the company’s divestment plans Johannsson said that any actions undertaken by the company will be done in close dialogue with relevant authorities. He added that Samherji will announce publicly as soon as there is any new development in the group’s exit from Namibia.


The more than 200 fishermen left high and dry by the departure of the Saga and the Geysir over the last week have heard that they will receive a gratitude bonus which is equal to two weeks of their daily rate at sea until the release of the Heinaste as per the court order is finalised.


According to Jackie Thiardt, the manager of Saga Seafood in Walvis Bay, the future employment of the fishermen left high and dry by the Saga will depend on the company securing work for the ship by either receiving a quota or being able to charter the vessel to other fishing companies to fill their quotas.


“The next two weeks will determine if the seagoing workers will be able to continue working or if they will be retrenched until such time that we can secure work for the vessels,” she said.


Thiardt also indicated that the company has not been able to retrieve the documentation for the Heinaste from the Namibian Police since the court order was issued by Magistrate Williams.


The Erongo Regional Police Commander, Commissioner Andreas Nelumbo, however, indicated that the company is free to pick up the documentation of the ship at any time.


“A court order was issued and we have to adhere to it,” Commissioner Nelumbo said.


When asked if the Anti-Corruption Commission of Namibia aims to impound the vessel Commissioner Nelumbo said that he not aware of any such an order from the relevant authorities.