Sale of seized tuna catch put off again
By Correspondent Edwin Agola
The Kisutu Resident Magistrate`s Court in Dar es Salaam has referred to the High Court the case involving 296 tonnes of tuna recovered from a pirate foreign vessel impounded while illegally fishing in Tanzania`s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters recently.
Sources intimated to The Guardian yesterday that the decision to refer the case was made after the lower court had officially put on hold the auctioning of the fish.
It has been reliably learnt that the exercise has been stopped because the case, which involves 30 foreign crew members, is about to be taken to the High Court for hearing and that the fish in question will serve as an exhibit.
The sources further hinted that Kisutu court had referred the case because the vessel was impounded outside Dar es Salaam Region and the lower court has no jurisdiction to preside over cases arising from incidents occurring outside the region.
The auction aborted last Saturday following a low turnout of potential buyers, with the few who turned up saying the quotation given by the government was too high for them.
The planned auction has also drawn criticism from some quarters over apparent lack of transparency and accountability.
The foreign crew members stand charged before Kisutu court principal resident magistrate Addy Lyamuya, their case scheduled for hearing on May 18.
It is understood that a Dar es Salaam-based company known as Bahari Foods Ltd, which has been storing the fish on behalf of the government at a rate of USD 800 per tonne a day since March 10, has since suspended some of its routine operations because the 296 tonnes surpass its storage capacity.
``Previously, we were told that the vessel was loaded with only 70 tonnes of tuna and we agreed to accommodate that,`` said Ramesh Chauhan, the firm`s general manager.
A Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) joint patrol team led by South Africa seized the vessel on March 10, while it was on an illegal fishing mission in Tanzania’s EEZ. The 296-tonne load is believed to be worth 2bn/-.
The Kisutu court recently mandated Dar es Salaam-based court broker Yono Auction Mart Company to sell the fish on behalf of the government.
Following the abortion of the planned auction, it is unclear how the fish will finally be disposed of.
Tanzania benefits little from its marine resources, the fishing sector contributing a meagre 1.6 per cent to the gross domestic product, the main reason being illegal fishing by foreign trawlers.