We now know that 28-year-old fishing observer Emmanuel Essien was actively taking actions against vessels engaged in illegal fishing practices before he vanished onboard a Chinese owned trawler called Meng Xin 15 on July 5th 2019.
In his report on the penultimate vessel he worked on, dated 24 June, he wrote: “I humbly plead with the police to investigate further.”
The job of a vessel observer is to ensure that licensed vessels comply with the local laws. In Ghana, an observer’s allegations if proven to be true could result in a minimum $1m fine.
“I don’t believe the government and the authorities valued the work my brother was doing,” said James, the elder brother of Emmanuel. “If they did, they would attach some seriousness and urgency to the investigation. We know nothing. We don’t understand how it can take so long.”
“Bribery and corruption are rife in the sector, with observers forced to accept bribes from Chinese officers to stop them from reporting on illegal activities,” said Steve Trent, Director of Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
A new EJF report estimates that Ghana could generate between US$14-24 million annually from its trawl sector by way of fishing license fees and fisheries-related infringements but fisheries resources are being sold off for negligible returns.
A three-month investigation by Gideon Sarpong and Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi based on interviews with dozens of fishery experts, court records and company and financial documents have established a hidden network of Chinese control and ownership of many industrial fishing vessels operating in Ghanaian waters in contravention of local laws.
The investigation also shows that these Chinese companies commonly operate through “front” companies to obtain fishing licenses and with very minimal action from regulatory bodies.
The investigation established that in contravention of Ghana’s Fisheries Management Plan, the Fisheries Commission in 2019 granted three fishing licenses to Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Co. Ltd, a publicly-traded Chinese company which made millions of dollars in profit from its operations in Ghana in 2018.
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