Graphic Online 

Tuna fishing companies halt operations for fear of pirate attacks

Author: Kester Aburam Korankye

Fourteen tuna fishing companies have halted their operations in the country’s waters for fear of pirate attacks.

The development has come about as a result of increased attacks on vessels by pirates in the country’s territorial waters since March this year.

The attacks peaked on March 26 with the kidnapping of three Korean sailors on board a Ghanaian-flagged fishing vessel, the Marine 711, which was hijacked by pirates around Keta in the Volta Region.

Within the last three months, Ghana has recorded five pirate attacks, compared to the 11 attacks between 2013 and 2017.

For fear of similar attacks, and in solidarity with their counterparts, all the 14 companies that concentrate on tuna fishing in Ghana’s waters have decided to halt their activities pending “positive assurance from the Ghana Navy that the vessels and their crew will be safe at sea”.

When the Daily Graphic visited the Tema Fishing Harbour on April 10, about 32 Ghanaian-flagged fishing vessels were anchored at the breakwaters, off the harbour.

“You can see some fishing vessels are anchored at our breakwaters, waiting for assurance from the Ghana Navy to move,” one fisherman told the Daily Graphic.

Cost to nation

The President of the Ghana Tuna Association, Mr John A. Farmer, who confirmed the development in an interview, added that the country risked losing between $5 million and $10 million in April alone if the vessels did not return to fishing.

“As we speak, the kidnapped sailors are yet to be rescued and we do not know what the Ghana Navy is doing about it. This incident has, no doubt, created fear and panic among local and foreign registered tuna vessels,” he said.

He expressed the fear that the halting of activities could extend to industrial trawlers, which would then aggravate the implication on the country and the tuna business in particular.

There are currently 90 industrial trawlers operating in the country’s territorial waters.

One glaring impact of the development will be shortage of tuna supply to canneries, in view of the fact that fishers feed the processors.

Ghana is said to earn about GH¢500 million, equivalent to some $120 million, annually from tuna exports to the European Union (EU) market.

There is also a huge potential for tuna from Ghana in Japan, Singapore and Spain.

Rescue moves

Although South Korea is reported to have deployed a warship to Ghana’s territorial waters in search of the kidnapped Korean sailors, the Ghana Navy is yet to disclose its plans to rescue the kidnapped sailors.

The Daily Graphic understands that Munmu the Great, the South Korean warship expected in Ghana, had been involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden before.

A source close to the Korean Embassy in Accra told the Daily Graphic that the warship had already been deployed from Somali waters and was expected in the Gulf of Guinea by April 20, this year.  

The pirates, according to the World Marine Company Limited, owners of the Marine 711, had not yet demanded a ransom in return for the release of the abducted sailors.

Earlier warnings

According to a media report, a merchant ship was surrounded by three speedboats carrying armed pirates off the coast of Takoradi on March 8, this year.

A report sent by some sailors to the Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) via email on March 8, this year, read: “At 1700 UTC, a merchant vessel was approached by three speedboats, in position 03°55N 001°14E 155°/65NM from Takoradi, Ghana”.

It further indicated that “occupants of the speedboats were wearing camouflage clothing and carrying weapons”.

Consequently, the MDAT-GoG advised vessels transiting the country’s coast to exercise extreme caution to avoid any attacks from the pirates.

Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea have become an established criminal activity and are becoming an increasing concern to the maritime sector.

A report by the International Bureau on Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships suggests that there were 11 separate pirate attacks off the country’s coast between 2013 and 2017.