KATIMA MULILO – Two hundred illegal foreign fishermen arrested in recent seek-and-arrest operations have been arraigned before the Katima Mulilo Magistrate’s Court and charged with illegal fishing.
The foreign fishermen were seized in the joint operation prompted by a New Era exposé on the widespread plunder of Namibia’s fisheries.
The joint operation involved the Namibian Police, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the two departments of immigration and customs.
Recently 161 illegal fishermen were also seized in the sting operation that not only targeted the fish-rich Lake Liambezi but other areas that have since sprung up as hotspots for illegal fishing such as Lusu, Zilitene, Lianshulu and Sangwali.
The operation, which has since officially ended but said to be “continuing indefinitely”, targets illegal foreign fishermen who recklessly plunder the country’s rich fish resources particularly in Lake Liambezi where illicit activities take place on a large-scale.
Of those arrested 20 were charged last week while eight paid fines ranging from N$500 to N$800 and have since been deported to their respective countries of origin.
Five of the detainees failed to pay the fine and are still in police custody while seven more are set to appear in the Ngoma Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Information obtained from the regional police spokesperson Sergeant Kisco Sitali indicated that cases for the remaining suspects are still being registered so that they also be formally charged.
Sitali further confirmed that even though the operation has officially stopped it has “not ended” “The operation will continue as long as there are still people fishing illegally on these islands and in the rivers.” Most of the suspects are Zambians with a few Angolans and Zimbabweans.
Most of the suspects were arrested at Lake Liambezi, a popular tributary of the Zambezi River which is rich in fishery resources and that has seen an unprecedented plunder of freshwater fish.
Police cells were said to be cramped due to the round-up but the police were adamant that charges be brought against the suspects as deportation alone had failed in the past to deter illegal fishermen, who keep returning to commit the same crime.
Police believe that what seems to exacerbate the problem is that locals are allegedly bribed with large sums of money for them to conceal the illicit plunder of the fishereis by foreigners.
Statistics obtained from the fisheries ministry last week indicate that last year alone over 300 illegal foreign fishermen were deported without being charged.
By George Sanzila