Families destroyed by Fishrot

Frederico Links and reporter Ester Mbathera

Years after losing his fisherman job at Namsov after quotas were diverted away from the company in what was later to be known as the Fishrot saga, Thomas Haimbala continues to go “door to door looking for a job”.

“I feel so bad. I want to buy [things], but there’s no money. I want to get married, but there’s no money,” he told the authors of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report, titled ‘We Are The Ones That Suffered the Most’, which was released yesterday.

IPPR researcher Frederico Links and reporter Ester Mbathera compiled the report.

Haimbala is among the 1 000 fishing industry workers who lost their jobs at Namsov Fishing Enterprises when horse-mackerel quotas were diverted to Fishcor as part of the Fishrot scheme.

When he lost his job, he was taking care of his own children, his mother and eight siblings, as well as an unmarried aunt and her seven children.


The report details, through various personal interviews and articles, how the Fishrot corruption scandal, which exposed widespread corruption within Namibia’s fishing industry, has left a trail of destruction that extends far beyond politics and the economy.

See pages 6 and 7 in this edition for more of these personal stories.

Another former fisherman, Abraham Abraham, says: “It’s like I’m dead, but I’m alive. Ag, my friend, you go home sometimes and you cry in your bed.”

Abraham, once a fisherman aboard the Geysir trawler of Saga Seafood, a Namibian subsidiary of Icelandic company Samherji, had ambitious goals.

These aspirations were within reach during his time at Saga Seafood, but the Fishrot fishing quotas scandal has shattered his dreams.

Another former fisherman, Job Timotheus, who also worked for Geysir trawler, says during his nearly five-year tenure on the Geysir trawler, he supported three households.

“Life was good, because everything was easier to do,” he says.

Timotheus said he has not been able to support his extended family, or himself since he lost his job at the end of August 2020.
Martin Sakeus (38) is having a tough time coping with his situation.

“This life is very hard. It’s very hard,” he says.

Sakeus was a factory hand on the Heinaste trawler of ArcticNam Fishing, a joint venture between Icelandic fishing company Samherji and Namibian partners, from September 2014 to November 2019, and says life was really good at the time.

Now he finds himself walking in the street just talking to himself, he says.


Haimbala is calling on Samherji to negotiate with the Namibian government to find a solution to their predicament.

“Come and negotiate with our government. Either you [Samherji] can come and give us a job or give (pay) us something,” he says.

Haufiku Ndillinaye (48), who was a fisherman on the Heinaste trawler of ArcticNam Fishing, a joint venture between Samherji and Namibian partners, demands an apology from Samherji.

“They must apologise, because they damaged our lives. Then they must pay us,” he says.

Speaking at the launch of the report, IPPR executive director Graham Hopwood said: “The IPPR calls on Icelandic fishing company Samherji to apologise for its role in Fishrot to the Namibians impacted, and urges full redress to affected individuals and communities.”

The institute also recommended the creation of an independent Namibian foundation to provide the victims of corruption lasting assistance.

“We are trying to build a case for some sort of compensation through the stories of the affected people on the impact of human rights in order for responsible parties, [like] Samherji, for some kind of restitutional redress,” Hopwood said.

The IPPR has been working on the report since late 2020 with the aim of establishing international accountability.

“We interviewed over 40 fisheries workers for the report, however, only 13 are featured as a sample of the affected community,” Hopwood said.

He said the IPPR is considering conducting another study on the economic damage caused by the Fishrot case.
“We need to be heard in Iceland,” he said.

Mbathera briefly highlighted how the events afflicted the workers over the years.

“Apart from financial losses, there were psychological losses. They lost their houses, lives and cannot fund their children’s education. They lost their dignity.

“They live in shacks with hygiene issues. They are living from eating bread and water or pap. Marriages and relationships collapsed,” she said.

The Fishrot scandal has resulted in a pending prosecution of 10 individuals and two companies, 12 close corporations and four trusts on 42 charges based on allegations that they had been involved in a multimillion-dollar scheme to illegally benefit from Namibian fishing quotas allocated to companies in the Icelandic fishing company group Samherji and to the state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor).

The case – in which the accused include former fisheries and marine resources minister Bernhard Esau, former attorney general and justice minister Sacky Shanghala, businessman James Hatuikulipi and Esau’s son-in-law, Tamson Hatuikulipi – is currently pending in the Windhoek High Court, where plea proceedings started before acting judge Moses Chinhengo in December.

Trial proceedings have been interrupted by an application for the judge to step down from the case.

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