THE 44 foreign nationals detained at Henties Bay because they are the alleged victims of human trafficking within Namibian waters are begging the government to send them home.
The fishermen were removed from two Namibian-flagged vessels in September when the vessels they were working on for over two years were impounded.
The vessels belonging to Nata Fishing Enterprises are suspected to have been harvesting shark fins.
In an emotional video seen by The Namibian on Sunday, the 44 seamen, including 35 Filipinos, four Mozambicans, two Vietnamese and three Indonesians, are sitting in a group in front of a camera, reading a message they hope will reach the Namibian government.
“We are calling on the Namibian government to grant our request and release us to our homelands. We are victims, and our families are left behind without money.
“We have lost some of our loved ones. We have our own kids, parents and siblings waiting for us for how many months already?
“The Namibian government has detained us, and it’s physically and mentally challenging for us. But the government is not helping us with our rights.
“We are left without our pay, allowance, and overtime, and that’s why we don’t have any more money we can send our families.
“So please, we are begging you, Namibian government, to pay attention to our rights as humans. Let us go home as soon as possible.
“Please, we cannot take it any more. All of us are depressed and stressed. Namibian government, we beg you, release us to go home and be with our families.” The government has been mum on the matter.
Deputy minister of home affairs, immigration, safety and security Daniel Kashikola could not provide an explanation for the fishermen’s detention by yesterday.
He, however, promised to provide feedback today.
According to information received from members of the group at the National Youth Services Centre at Henties Bay, they are being treated well, but are not receiving feedback on their case.
Captains and engineers are still manning the vessels.
Four Angolan nationals and eight Namibians were also among the fishermen.
Their whereabouts are unknown.
At the time of the discovery, the police were “considering” the formulation of charges against a Namibian fishing company operating from Walvis Bay.
The charges included trafficking in persons, contravening the Labour Act, contravening Immigration Control Act, contravening the Marine Resources Act, and possible fraud under common law.
No one has been charged or arrested to date.
Erongo police commander commissioner Nikolaus Kupembona yesterday said investigations into the case are ongoing.
“The investigation is at an advanced stage, but some factors still need to be considered,” he said.
In the meantime, board members of Nata Fishing Enterprises, the company suspected of the offences, denied being involved in any human trafficking or related charges.
The board members do not want to be named or associated with the serious allegations still under investigation.
According to a written statement, the Sea Shepherd patrol vessel, which is helping Namibia’s fisheries authority to patrol Namibian waters while Namibia’s only two vessels are under maintenance, intercepted Nata’s MV Shang Fu near the border of the Namibian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in June.
“The crew was interrogated and claims were made that marine resources were discarded of, which led the MV Shang Fu being called into the port of Walvis Bay for further investigation.
“MV Nata 2 navigated freely to the port and has not been suspected, nor charged with contravening any acts,” the statement reads.
The MV Shang Fu’s captain admitted guilt to the charge of discarding fish and has fully paid a related fine.
The board member says flights were booked for all crew members who have completed their work contracts, and who were scheduled to depart to their home countries, but their departure has apparently continuously been delayed as they were not granted visas until all crew members’ passports were confiscated by the authorities “with no mention as to what the reasons were”.
“For the next two months our crew members were interrogated almost daily.
“The crew kept complaining they feared these interrogations and did not understand what was going to happen to them.
“We assured them they have not done anything wrong, and that the matter would be resolved in due course, after which they can fly home,” the board member says.
Retired ombudsman John Walters yesterday said the Namibian government has violated the human rights of the fishermen by detaining them for so long without charges.
He questioned the status of the fishermen in the country.
Walters said the fact that they are not being detained at a police facility implies they have not committed any crime.
“Are they illegal immigrants, then procedurally they should have been deported.
“If they are persons who are being trafficked, then the person who trafficked them should have been arrested if that person is in the country. Otherwise, what is their status?” Walters asked.
He said if the fishermen were charged with any criminal offence they would have had to appear in court within 48 hours after their arrest, which has not happened.
Walters said the government needs to expedite the process this week and release the group before Christmas.