High-level link to dolphin exports

Chinese tycoon’s address on letterhead

30 November 2016 | Environment

JANA-MARI SMITH



Telephone calls to a number listed for a Chinese company that has offered the government millions in return for hundreds of endangered marine animals revealed a possible link to a prominent Chinese businessman in Namibia.

A letterhead for Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, the company that applied for permission from the fisheries ministry to export penguins, dolphins, killer whales and seals, lists the same business address and telephone number as those of millionaire Jack Huang’s Sun Investment Group in Windhoek.

The landline number and the business address for Sun Investment Group, as listed in the telephone directory, match the details provided on a letterhead, in possession of Namibian Sun, of Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research.

When the number listed on the letterhead was called this week, an unidentified person at the reception desk confirmed that the number was the correct one for both Welwitschia and Sun Investment Group.

Moreover, the person said the contact person for Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Service Research is a certain Jeff Huang, allegedly related to Chinese business tycoon Jack Huang.

The person furthermore stated that Welwitschia “falls under the same umbrella” as Sun Investment Group.

Last week, officials at the Registrar of Companies said Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research was not a locally registered company and there was no pending registration either.

Both Jack Huang and ‘Jeff’ yesterday denied any knowledge of Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Services, during brief conversations with Namibian Sun, after they were reached on their cellphone numbers.

Both denied any knowledge of the application to export marine animals, or of the specially modified Russian vessel Ryazanovka, anchored at Walvis Bay harbour since May. Reports indicate the vessel is equipped to transport large marine mammals, including whales.

From what could be gleaned regarding the vessel, its manager and owner is Vasiliyev OA, based in Petropavlovsk, Russia, which is also listed as its home port.

Jack Huang yesterday said he had no knowledge of either the ship or the application with the ministry, and did not have any information on the owners of Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, or of the company itself.

Jeff Huang denied being related to Jack Huang and said he has “no idea” about the marine mammal issue or the Welwitschia company itself.

Ministry of fisheries permanent secretary Moses Maurihungirire yesterday confirmed that the ministry had not yet reached a decision on the application.

The application, which was handed to the ministry at least seven months ago, was heavily criticised, not only for countless inaccurate scientific claims, unrealistic demands in terms of the numbers of species in Namibian waters, but also in light of increased global objections to trading and keeping wildlife in captivity.

Moreover, local tourism enterprises warned that granting the application could damage the country’s reputation as conservation stalwart and harm marine tourism.

The ‘Project Concept Note’, as handed in by Welwitschia, in partnership with a company calling itself Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting, claims that they will invest an initial N$30 million in equipment and vessels to start the operation.

The proposal is based on the assumption, false according to numerous experts, that the Chinese will “harvest excessive marine mammals and other sea based fish type”, including bottlenose dolphins, African penguins, orcas and seals.

The document, allegedly compiled by marine biologists, falsely states that Namibian waters are stocked with “abundant marine lives include fur seals, penguins and cetacean species, such as Killer Whale, Fin Whale, Pygmy sperm whale, Rough-toothed dolphin and Heaviside’s dolphin (sic).”

While many of the species do not exist in Namibian waters, or only pass through rarely, the other species listed are endangered and rare. Despite this, the proposal requests permission to capture large numbers of these animals - more than the actual numbers in Namibian waters.

Moreover, the project is “premised on the general assumption that Namibia does not have a marine mammal monitoring strategy in place,” another claim that was ticked off as false by environmental experts.

The fact that the fisheries ministry has dragged its feet on the issue, although many say the decision is simple as it should not be considered at all, has caused rising levels of frustration countrywide.

Concerned citizens, many of whom have worked in environmental circles for years, say the secrecy around the application raises suspicion that the application might be a done deal, having been approved in secret.

They have urged that in the interest of responsible resource management, Namibia’s wildlife and the country, the application be denied.