Assembly calls for COVID-19 infected mariners to be urgently repatriated | 08 July 2020
Faced with a situation which is not our doing where 80 foreign crew members onboard several tuna fishing vessels have tested positive for COVID-19, members of the National Assembly are calling on the Seychelles authorities to urgently discuss with the European Union the possibility that they are repatriated to their respective countries or the nearest EU port to be treated.
In a private notice question to the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Charles Bastienne, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Wavel Ramkalawan echoed members’ and the general population’s serious concern faced with a situation that is not Seychelles’ responsibility but which is tarnishing our image abroad as well as impacting on our fishing industry, the remaining earner of foreign exchange, now that the tourism industry is on its knees.
Mr Ramkalawan wanted to know what is preventing Seychelles from moving forward quickly to push the EU to accept its responsibility for the breach in COVID-19 testing of the mariners before entering Seychelles to take part in the crew change process and to replace those who have tested positive for COVID-19. He stressed that it is important for fully fit mariners to come and replace them to allow the fishing industry to operate.
Minister Bastienne explained that any such related decisions rest with the Public Health Authority but noted that talks with all the concerned authorities and parties are ongoing and more clarity in the situation is expected in the coming days and weeks as Seychelles also wants to clear its reputation in the matter.
Minister Bastienne said it is clear that there has been a breach in testing procedures but the current situation is not in the interest of anybody and that there is commitment on all sides to address the situation by exploring the best options possible.
Altogether Minister Bastienne said there are 44 tuna fishing vessels which are either fishing or disembarking/transshipping tuna in Port Victoria. From the fleet there are 13 vessels which fly the Seychelles flag, 26 fly the EU flag, three the Mauritian flag, and two the South Korean flag. With the COVID-19 situation, 11 vessels are not fishing and among them are five that fly the Seychelles flag and six fly the EU flag. This means that fishing activity has been reduced by at least 25% and this is a considerable figure for us.
He said if the current situation continues it will have a significant impact on our economy.
But is the Indian Ocean Tuna (IOT) receiving enough fish to sustain its operations?
Minister Bastienne pointed out that the IOT processes around 350 tonnes of tuna per day and according to the canning factory they are facing some shortages where the skipjack species is concerned. At present, the SFA is studying the situation to pinpoint the real cause of the reduction in supplies.
According to Minister Bastienne skipjack tuna is a species which normally does not pose any problem or shortage to its stock as it is more resilient.
He said the IOT has informed the ministry that they are focusing on other species but the ministry is in touch with the fishing agencies to review the transshipment level to ensure the factory is sufficiently supplied to maintain its operations.
Asked to confirm if any EU vessel agents are thinking of moving their fishing operations out of Seychelles’ waters, Minister Bastienne noted that for the time being there are no official communications that any EU operators have expressed the desire to remove their vessels from our waters.
Concerning the EU vessel fishing quota, Minister Bastienne informed the Assembly members that other than some preliminary analysis conducted by the SFA, the EU manages this itself so the ministry would not know any concrete details until the EU submits its report on the matter to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). But he affirmed that EU’s quota for yellow fin is 77, 698 tonnes and last year its catch amounted to 75, 947tonnes.
Minister Bastienne went on to give further details on the quota per the Seychelles flagged boats, noting that this is under control.
Going back to the COVID-19 situation involving the foreign mariners, Minister Bastienne reminded Assembly members that his ministry remains in contact with the Public Health Authority as well as the fishing vessels’ agents to discuss how best to address the matter of future crew change, an important and unavoidable component which will continue to be done and that all the possibilities are being explored to ensure this is done in the smoothest way with the minimum negative impact possible while at the same time being mindful of the health of our people.
Other questions related to the COVID-19 situation had to do with effective and safe transshipment of fish in Port Victoria, extra measures to ensure that quarantine on the vessel is effective among others.
Minister Bastienne assured members that there are regular meetings between the Public Health Authority, the Seychelles Ports Authority (SPA) and the SFA to discuss the situation as it evolves and that no Seychellois stevedores are boarding the COVID-19 infected vessels for transshipment and if ever they were to board, authorisation will be under the prerogative of the Public Health Authority.
With regard to quarantine measures on the vessels, Minister Bastienne pointed out that each of them has its in-house health centre which can accommodate a certain number of people needing treatment at one time as well as medical equipment and other related equipment.