Esau signs declaration on safety at sea

By Jade McClune

FISHERIES Minister Bernhard Esau told an inter-ministerial meeting of the International Maritime Organisation in Torremolinos, Spain this week that there’s very little Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing in Namibia’s exclusive economic zone due to the measures put in place by government, including the Fisheries Observer Program.

Esau said, “Namibia is a major fishing nation, where fisheries is the second largest forex earner after mining, and sustains close to 17 000 jobs directly, and more than three times that number indirectly. In Namibia, we take fisheries seriously and have heavily invested in infrastructure, facilities and equipment to ensure constant monitoring of the entire Namibian EEZ.

“I am happy to state that, as a result of our stringent monitoring, control and surveillance measures, which includes constant on-board Fisheries Observer Program, there is minimal IUU fishing in Namibian EEZ.”

A report published by Confidente in January in Namibia’s northern waters showed that the country was “losing about N$50 million worth of fish every month to IUU fishing by mainly Angola-registered fishing vessels in Namibian waters, as the authorities appear unable to effectively patrol the offshore territory due to a lack of funds for fuel.”

Earlier in January, a navy warship had been sent to patrol the northern waters. Esau said at the time – according to Informante – that “fish pirates were caught red-handed while decimating vital horse mackerel breeding stock in the shallow water just behind the waves at Foz de Kunene” and that the actions of the pirates were “tantamount to inviting war.”

“Not only is the vessel in Namibia’s territorial waters but as it can be seen to be within 200 metres from the shore. The area close to shore is where most fish species breed and spawn and if they are trawling this close to shore they are destroying one of Namibia’s most valuable resources,” he said at the time.

Esau also spoke this week about the safety of seagoing crew, a contentious issue brought into sharp relief by the death of 40-year-old Hausiku Mathews Sivambo in August, who burnt to death on board the vessel, Ocean Tide, after it burst into flames alongside Seaworks Fish Processors’ jetty at Walvis Bay.

Esau said “the Provisions of the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1997, otherwise known as the Cape Town Agreement of 2012, [provide] an important instrument for ensuring safety of fishing crew at sea, and fighting IUU fishing.”

The minister also said he considers “fishers as the main players” in the industry, despite longstanding complaints by seagoing workers over long hours of up to 16 hours a day, unsafe working conditions and the fact that they seem not protected by the Labour Act. The workers say many policy-makers as stakeholders have a vested interest in maintaining poor working conditions.

The dispute culminated in a bitter strike (later declared illegal) when hundreds of fishing workers refused to return work in October 2015 until their demands were met, leading to the dismissal of more than a 1,000 and a drawn-out struggle between workers, industry bosses and the unions that still drags on.

Esau, however, told his audience in Spain that “Namibia considers fishers as the main players in our fisheries sector, because they are responsible for the first step in unlocking the economic value of our fisheries. We are therefore implementing several policies to enhance greater economic inclusivity of our fishers in the fishery, including increased equity participation of fishers in fishing rights.

“I therefore believe that safety must always come first. Ensuring that our fishers can go out to work and come back to their families not just alive but also whole, and healthy, is a non-negotiable right.”

Agreement on Vessel Safety

He further said Namibia is keen to ratify the Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on Safety on Board Sea vessels and would soon be a signatory, as “we are speeding up our internal consultations to ensure that we ratify this agreement as soon as possible.

“The Cape Town Agreement contains important flexibilities, like extended periods of compliance, which may be up to 10 years for some requirements, such as radio-communication equipment and vessel size exclusions, such as exemption of all vessels below 24 meters in length.

“The vast majority of most of our fishing vessels are compliant with the Cape Town Agreement, since several of these provisions are part of the vessel approval requirements under Namibian law.” Namibia, which is undergoing a severe budget squeeze and cash crunch, will need funding support to be able to comply with the requirements of the Agreement though.

Minister Esau finally assured the meeting of “Namibia’s commitment to join the family of IMO member states who are determined to ensure that our fishing vessels remain watertight, weathertight, strong, and stable.

“Our Namibian ocean is rough, hence it is in our interest to ensure that our fishing vessels are seaworthy at all times, and ultimately ensure the safety of our fishers at all times.”

In total 46 countries signed the Torremolinos Declaration, a non-legally binding political instrument this week. In so doing they publicly indicate their determination to ensure the Cape Town Agreement enters into force by October 2022.