Nata Fishing cleared; vessels and rights restored

RELEASED … One of the two Nata Fishing Enterprises vessels, the Shang Fu, which were held in custody for about a year by the Namibian government due to alleged illegal fishing and human trafficking. Photo: Contributed

After more than a year of allegations of illegal fishing, human trafficking and financial setbacks, Nata Fishing Enterprises has been vindicated by the High Court of Namibia.

Justice Orben Sibeya ordered the release of Nata Fishing’s vessels, the MV Shang Fu and MV Nata 2, along with a compensation for costs on 12 December, marking a decisive end to the legal turmoil that beset the company.

The case stemmed from a series of seizures initiated by the Ministry of Works and Transport, the Ministry of Justice and other governmental bodies, against Nata’s operational assets in October 2022.

These actions were met with legal challenges by Nata Fishing, leading to a prolonged court battle and significant financial losses for the company, estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

In his judgement, Sibeya noted extensive pleading and joint status reports leading to the decision, emphasising the need for investigation and action by government agencies to adhere to constitutional laws and reasonable time frames.

The court found that the continued seizure of Nata’s vessels and the failure of the respondents to make timely decisions regarding the release were unreasonable and disproportionately infringed upon the company’s rights.

The ruling has ordered the immediate release of the seized vessels to Nata Fishing, along with their respective logbooks, registration certificates, and relevant documentation.

Moreover, the respondents are to pay the applicant an amount of N$100 000 in respect of costs.

This decision has been celebrated by Nata Fishing as a restoration of their reputation and operational capabilities.

In an affidavit, a representative of Nata Fishing Enterprises highlighted the severe impact of the seizures on the company’s operations and the broader fishing sector.

He emphasised the company’s role as a pioneering entity in Namibia’s large pelagic fishing industry, particularly in tuna fishing, and lamented the substantial daily losses incurred due to the government’s actions.

The case has also shed light on the plight of the crew members aboard the seized vessels, including allegations of human trafficking and poor working conditions.

Despite these serious claims, investigations have not yielded substantial evidence against Nata Fishing, and no formal charges have been brought forward.

Crew members and foreign embassies have come forward to deny trafficking allegations, asserting that working conditions on the vessels were satisfactory and contracts were willingly signed.

It all started in June 2022 when foreign patrol vessel Sea Shepherd, with the support of Namibian fisheries observers and the Namibian Police, discovered a fishing vessel allegedly violating Namibian fisheries and marine resources laws.

Allegations of poor working conditions and maltreatment soon surfaced.

The vessel, Nata Fishing’s MV Shang Fu, was seized and forced back to the port of Walvis Bay, but a second vessel, MV Nata 2, was not.
Both vessels were kept from operations since then.

Together, the vessels accommodated 60 crew members, which included individuals from various nationalities, including Namibians.

All of the crew involved were sent home, while Nata fishing remained stranded without cause.

“We are relieved to know that the abuse, pain, and suffering have come to an end at last.

“We have been caught up in a witch-hunt being accused with serious allegations which were unfounded and absolute nonsense. Namibia has taken a reputational blow too, which is very unfortunate,” a senior representative of Nata Fishing said after the ruling.

“We are currently assessing the severity of the damages to our vessels to determine if and how our operations can continue again.

“Numerous crew are already requesting to return to these vessels as they were happy working on these vessels. For the sake of our sector and country we hope that such a situation would never repeat itself again.”

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