Ryazanovka looks set to depart

09 December 2016 | Local News

The wall of silence over the Ryazanovka trawler remains as she is refuelling with massive quantities at the moment, destination unknown.

The controversial Chinese trawler Ryazanovka that has been earmarked as the vessel that will be used to capture and transport live and endangered Namibian marine mammals to Chinese aquariums, if the application is approved, is currently refuelling and storing fuel supplies at Walvis Bay’s main port.

A NamPort port plan shows the vessel has been at Berth 8 since Thursday and is scheduled to remain alongside until Sunday. According to the public port plan, the vessel is taking bunkers, stores and water. The volumes are enormous.

The fisheries ministry remains mum on whether a permit has been granted or denied to the Chinese company Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research.

The company put in a request several months ago to export a number of internationally listed vulnerable wild dolphins, whales and African penguins, among other species, to Chinese aquariums via the Ryazanovka trawler.

A concerned Namibian yesterday said that it is clear the vessel is taking up “huge quantities of fuel” until Sunday, and the urgent question now is what the destination and plans of the vessel crew are once it departs the port.

Moreover, while internationally it is common practice for vessels to be equipped with AIS antennae for tracking purposes, especially in ports, the Ryazanovka has been offline for months.

This, according to reliable sources, could be due to the fact that there are numerous allegations that the vessel is undergoing a change of ownership, and that the new owners are trying to register the vessel in Namibia. Nevertheless, the vessel’s invisibility is a concern to many.

NamPort as well as the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources were not able to confirm the reasons for the Ryazanovka’s refuelling nor its destination after Sunday and whether a permit for capture and export has been granted or denied.

NamPort advised Namibian Sun to contact Trade Ocean, the maritime agents attending to the vessel. However, Trade Ocean agents last week told Namibian Sun they would not comment on any matter relating to the vessel.

The vessel has been in Namibian waters since May and was reportedly customised to enable it to capture and transport large marine wildlife.

The application by Welwitschia Aquatic has unleashed widespread condemnation, both locally and internationally, with the formal request slammed for posing a risk to the local tourism industry and Namibia’s reputation as a leader in environmental conservation, among numerous other issues.

Moreover, scientists have pointed out that the application is riddled with false and inaccurate scientific information, questioning the expertise and intentions of the applicants and their partners.

The Chinese have offered to pay N$30 million, labelling it as money that will be invested through funding of the project into the country.

Internationally, many have argued that the decision is not Namibia’s to make, as the marine wildlife are cross-border animals and do not belong to a single country.

Moreover, a growing number of environmental and scientific organisations question conditions at Chinese zoos and aquariums as well as the ethics behind capturing wild animals and forcing them into a zoo existence.

The questionable application sent to the ministry earlier this year noted that Welwitschia Aquatic is working in collaboration with Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting Company.

Although no further information could be gained on the legitimacy and ethics of the company, Dave Morgan from Wild Welfare, an organization with a mission to improve the welfare of captive wild animals, said that based on his experience of conditions at Chinese zoos and aquariums, “they are not places that I could contemplate sending animals to.”

Along with a majority of wildlife scientists, Morgan added that Wild Welfare objects in principle to the capturing and transporting of animals from the wild into captivity.

“These days, modern aquariums and members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, endeavour to source their cetaceans from captive-bred stock from other aquariums rather than support wild capture operations.”

Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research is allegedly managed by Jeff Huang, a close relative of millionaire Chinese businessman Jack Huang, owner of Sun Investment Group in Namibia. Welwitschia Aquatic shares the same address and contact details as that of Sun Investment Group, and employee there confirmed to Namibian Sun last week that both operated from the same premises.

JANA-MARI SMITH