Samherji offers olive branch

The Icelandic company, in a statement yesterday, said it intends to keep the last remaining vessel in Namibian waters for now to help avoid further job losses.

07 February 2020 | Fishing

OGONE TLHAGE



Icelandic fishing company Samherji said before its divestment exercise is completed in Namibia, it would attempt to negotiate with stakeholders in the country to ensure its last remaining vessel, the Heinaste, remains in Namibian waters.

This, the beleaguered company said, may mean 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,” it said in a statement yesterday.

The company, currently embroiled in an international corruption scandal, said it was prepared to meet all of its obligations due in Namibia.

Samherji benefitted handsomely when it got access to lucrative fishing quotas and is alleged to have paid bribes for these quotas in what has become known as the Fishrot scandal.

The scandal has led to the resignations of Bernhardt Esau as fisheries minister, Sakeus Shanghala as justice minister and James Hatuikulipi as Investec Namibia MD. The scandal also resulted in their arrests as well as that of three others – Ricardo Gustavo, a suspended Investec manager, Pius Mwatelulo and Tamson Hatuikulipi, who is also the son-in-law of Esau.

An amount of N$150 million is believed to have been paid by Samherji for the lucrative fishing quotas.

The six arrested and currently in custody have since been nicknamed the Fishrot Six.

Samherji interim CEO Björgólfur Johannsson said it had sought close cooperation with authorities in an effort to iron out problems that had arisen as a consequence of the scandal.

“We are in the process of reaching out to all relevant Namibian authorities to explore common ground for the most beneficial solution. The solution, at least temporarily, 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,” said Johannsson.

Samherji’s Heinaste fishing vessel was recently attached by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) after it was found fishing in restricted waters. The attachment led to the loss of jobs of those employed on the vessel while its captain was fined to 12 years imprisonment or a fine of N$950 000.

Samherji further claimed that there had been attempts to discredit it in Namibia.

“Over the past months, some of these parties have made attempts to take advantage of the allegations against the Samherji group to their own benefit. As part of such a campaign, we have seen misinformation being spread concerning the nature of Samherji's engagements. Samherji does not intend to argue such civil disputes publicly but will rather protect its contractual rights through the appropriate channels,” Johannsson said.

Despite the display of goodwill on Samherji’s part, two of its vessels left Namibia last week, causing major uproar. The ACC had intended to have the vessels attached. The vessels in question are the Saga, which is currently in the Canary Islands for maintenance, and the Geysir, which is in Mauritania. The departure of the vessels left 220 fishermen and an unspecified number of contractors stranded.

Last week, ACC director-general Paulus Noa was in talks with other law enforcement agencies to have the vessels returned to Namibia and attached.

“Before Samherji’s divestment in Namibia is finalised, 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. Samherji will strive towards providing employment for as many as possible of those affected, first and foremost related to the Heinaste,” Johannsson said.

Hatuikulipi abandons asset unfreezing

James Hatuikulipi has since abandoned a bid to have the seizure of his assets, and those of his cousin, Tamson, set aside.

A High Court hearing had been scheduled for yesterday. Hatuikulipi in an affidavit said he was “taken aback” to learn that his personal bank account had been frozen and insisted that his right to dignity was being violated.

The fact that finance minister Calle Schlettwein had garnished his account, which led to an N$150 million decline in his bank balance, also bothered Hatuikulipi.

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