File Photo: Some fishermen pulling the catch from the sea
File Photo: Some fishermen pulling the catch from the sea

Tema boat disaster is regrettable

Last Thursday’s disaster at sea at the Tema Port anchorage that claimed the lives of two fishers, as carried on the front page of the Daily Graphic of Friday, July 28, 2023, has come as a sad conclusion to the 2023 closed fishing season, which ends in two days.

While the families and the Tema Manhean (Newtown) community mourn Francis Tetteh Larbi, 27, and Samuel Acquaye Allotey, 45, the standoff between fishers in the Tema Newtown area and the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GHPA)  over the true cause of the incident that killed the two has caught our attention.

The fishers currently impute ill motive to the action of the mariners aboard the GPHA patrol boat, who, in the view of the fishers, rammed their boat into their canoe. The port authority denies the accusation vehemently. “We wish to emphasise that GPHA is a responsible organisation involved in search and rescue missions, and as such will not abandon victims of a collision even if it involved our own craft,” the GPHA said in an official communication as tension mounted between the state authority and the Tema Manhean fishers community.

It is regrettable that lives were lost in such a manner, whether accidentally or under some other circumstance.

It is suggested that the fishers defied the ban on fishing as imposed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development to embark on the fishing expedition, but their members have maintained that the 12 onboard the canoe were on a Homowo ritual fishing expedition with the backing of the Tema Traditional Council.

Indeed, the Tema Awudun Chief Fisherman, Nii Ashitey Odametey II, told the Daily Graphic that the traditional council undertook expeditions to catch particular fish for the performance of rites as part of the annual traditional Homowo festival. He said the various stakeholders, including the GPHA and Marine Police, were aware of the expedition, and that about 20 canoes were at sea for the expedition when the incident occurred.

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What this means is that the fishers’ expedition was officially known to the authorities. From their side, the expedition could not have been an attempt to sidestep the month-long ban on fishing activities by smuggling themselves onto the waters to fish, while the rest of the fishing industry awaited the ceremonial reopening of the sea. 

After all, the closed fishing season has been instituted with the buy-in of fishers across the country to improve the fish stock in the country’s waters. That is why those who have flouted it over the one-month period have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, usually convicted to a fine or a jail sentence by the courts.

It is also worrying that the patrol boat in the centre of the incident, appears to be a mystery vessel. It is quite worrying that the identity of the patrol boat appears not to be known to even the sophisticated security system of the GPHA which had deployed various guards at sea to check unfriendly excursions.

It is on the basis of this that we think investigations into the matter are not only appropriate, but they must also be sped up to bring justice or a definite closure to the affected families by unraveling the circumstances surrounding the incident. Indeed, we join the Tema Youth Association, a youth group in the Tema Metropolis, to call for calm on all sides while urging stakeholders in the area to use dialogue to resolve issues around last Thursday’s incident at sea. We equally agree with the group that the relevant authorities should engage in dialogue with the fishing community to address their concerns and work collaboratively towards an improved safety system on the waters.

We also call on the authorities to always consider the traditional and cultural circumstances of a people as it implements the fishing closed season. For the people of Tema Manhean, for instance, the closed season comes too close to their Homowo festival, and, therefore, likely to trigger the ritualistic events of fishing for specific specie. But dialogue and engagement has an answer for controversy.

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