An Icelandic fishing company has stated that it will resort to legal action after one of its vessels was detained in Namibia for breaches of local law allegedly committed by its crew.
In a statement on its website on Monday, February 10, Samherji said that it has been divesting its operations in Namibia and that the freezer trawler Heinaste was its only vessel remaining in the country. This was to allow the vessel to conclude a charter or sale to local operators with the object of preserving the jobs of local fishermen.
Samherji said that Heinaste was detained by Namibian authorities on Friday, February 7, the second time in three months that the vessel was seized in the southwestern African country.
Speaking on behalf of the company, interim CEO Björgólfur Jóhannsson criticised the renewed seizure of Heinaste as “wrongful under Namibian law” and pledged that Samherji would take the case to court if necessary.
The statement from Samherji reiterated that only a convicted person can have their assets seized under Namibian law, and that the owner of Heinaste has not been charged or convicted of any offence.
On February 5, Heinaste‘s captain pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court of Walvis Bay to three charges of having fished in waters shallower than 200 metres deep, which is a contravention of the quota conditions applicable to the rights holders whose quota the trawler was chartered to fish.
The captain was duly fined and although the state applied for the forfeiture of the vessel, the court refused to grant a forfeiture order, finding that it was not proven that the owner of the vessel, Heinaste Investments, in which Samherji indirectly holds a controlling interest, did not take all reasonable steps to prevent the vessel from being used illegally.
The presiding magistrate thus ordered the state to return the vessel’s papers to the owner.
Mr Jóhannsson said that the Namibian Police deliberately ignored the court order and refused to return the ship’s papers to the owner, as the court ordered it to do.
However, Commissioner Nelius Becker, head of the Namibian Police’s Criminal Investigation Directorate, refuted Samherji’s claims and said that Heinaste‘s recent seizure was permitted by Namibian law under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA).
Mr Becker said that his office impounded Heinaste as there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the trawler and its crew might leave the country while the matter is still being decided by the courts.
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