Stop the Illegal Trawlers of the Peninsular (AKA the Bully Ships)

This is a story about the destruction of villagers’ livelihoods and life styles as well as plundering the fish stock and marine life of Salone. It is a story of illegal and bullying tactics. It is a story of stealing from Salone. It is a story of intimidating local villagers.

It must stop now.We were at Kent beach, one of our favourites. It’s the one with the boat by the rocks in the sunset on the home page. That is the beach. It is absolutely beautiful.Mainly the villagers in Kent rely on fishing in traditional boats for their livelihood.   We always go to this beach and we want to offer to take any visitors there so we went along to talk to the local people so that we can work with them. We know a lot of the people from Kent quite well now, it is a friendly place. We spent the afternoon on the beach; everything was idyllic to begin with. We then saw something we had not seen before in Sierra Leone, although we had seen this in Guinea Conakry before, where it is strongly believed that corrupt officials are bribed to let it happen.A big, black trawler was plying the small bay only a short distance out from the shore. It went from one side to the other, up and down, up and down. A loud and continual thud –a-thud, thud- a –thud, thud- a- thud, came from deep within the bowels of the vessel.The ship both sounded and looked menacing and it was totally out of place in this little bay that is an area of outstanding international beauty.The boat was never more than half a mile from the shore. We took pictures of it. Two of the children from the village came over to watch us snapping this evil monster, clapping their hands because we had caught it on camera, telling us it was destroying their village.We went over to talk to our friends on the beach about it. This is what they told us:“Our problem began in 1994. These two big boats started to come and take all the fish and at the same time they would destroy our nets and make it dangerous for us to fish.”We questioned them and they elaborated:“The trawlers come up from the south of Banana Island to the north here, which is Kent village. All the villages around here are affected because they go across all the bays.Our fishing was badly affected so the villagers here decided to try and stop this. A few of us went down to the Sierra Leone Marine Department at Hanna Benka Coker Street to report the two trawlers.The Sierra Leone Navy came in a ship and some sailors went into the trawler. They were there a short time then they came out of the trawler and the navy ship went away. The two trawlers just carried on fishing. We were not told what had happened.We also reported the two trawlers during the council election to the local councillors. The local councillors say they want to help us but nothing has happened.”The villagers told us the problem was even worse at night:“During the day the boat is between one quarter and a half a mile from the shore but at night time it comes in even closer. At night it comes in near the shore and switches its lights off. Loclas fishIt destroys the nets that we have laid down. It makes it too dangerous for us to go out in our small boats to fish. It is so close to the shore at night that the noise of its engine disturbs the whole of the town when we are trying to sleep.”The local fishermen said that they believed that the trawlers are Korean because they have Koreans running the boat with one African man. They told us that one of the trawlers is called Lamont 86 Paragona but usually the names and numbers of the boats are covered up. The boats do not fly identifying flags of a country. They are not Sierra Leonean boats.They continued to explain their plight:“The Sierra Leone Marine Department come to us every year for our licence fees. It costs us Leones 30,000 for a small boat and Leones 50,000 for a larger one.   We are finding it difficult to survive around here anymore because there are no fish to catch not even to eat. How are we meant to pay the fees? These two trawlers don’t leave us any fish not even the small ones because the nets they use have a very fine mesh so when they trawl they take everything including the breeding fish. They even take the dolphins, the porpoise and the whales when they are in these waters. They take everything from the sea here.”We asked our friends what they wanted to happen. Their request was a simple one:“All we want is direct contact with someone in the ministry who will listen to us and come and stop these boats. They are stealing from Salone. They are destroying our waters, our fish stocks, our marine life and our livelihoods. What they are doing is illegal, both the size of their nets and coming so close to our shoreline, that is why they cover the names and numbers of the boats but someone must be able to stop them.They are ruining the lives of the villagers around the Peninsular; our children will not be able to stay in the villages because they will not be able to exist here.”We agreed that we would work with the villagers to try and get these trawlers stopped. It is clear that what the two trawlers are doing is in clear contravention of The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force on 16 November 1994 and to which Sierra Leone became a signatory on 12 December 1994.This Convention codifies customary international law principle of a nation’s right to protect its natural resources and extends it to include mineral resources, to protect fish stocks, and to provide the means to enforce pollution controls. The Convention also sets the limit of various areas including what consisted of territorial waters and the rights and obligations of States within territorial waters.The Convention set the limit of 12 nautical miles as from the baseline (lowest waterline) as territorial waters. Within territorial waters the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.Vessels have the right of “innocent passage” through any territorial waters. “Innocent Passage” is defined by the Convention as passing through waters in an expeditious and continuous manner, which is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security” of the coastal state. Fishing, polluting, weapons practice, and spying are not “innocent”. It is clear from the Convention that the activities of the two trawlers could be stopped by the Sierra Leonean authorities. We are asking that this happen with immediate effect. There could be many questions asked about why this scandalous theft from Sierra Leone’s waters has been allowed to continue for so long but now is not the time for recriminations. It is far better that things are put right as soon as possible. That is what the people of Kent want. There appear to be four Ministries with a direct interest in stopping the illegal fishing. Firstly there is Ministry responsible for Marine Resources. Secondly there is the Ministry for Agriculture and Food Security. The future of the fish stocks in Sierra Leone is vital for the overall food security of the country. Thirdly,  there is the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment. Although this is a sea matter any environmentalist will confirm that the protection of Sierra Leone’s rich marine life is of vital environmental importance. Of particular concern are the dolphins, the whale and the porpoise that are presently being needlessly destroyed by these two trawlers.Finally there is the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. If the country is to promote ecotourism then it is essential that the beautiful beaches and diverse marine life, that will potentially attract tourists, are subject to responsible conservation and protection measures that work with the local communities.Please Mr Dr Moses Kappu, Minister of Marine Resources, Dr Sam Sesay, Minister of Agriculture and Food Safety, Mr. Benjamin Davies, Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment, and Mr Hindolo Trye, Minister of Tourism and Culture, exercise the powers conferred in you for the protection of Salone’s natural resources and the villages of the Peninsular.  Local Fishermen    .