by Esther Mbathera

THE Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations (CNFA) wants fishermen to be prioritised for receiving Covid-19 vaccines once they become available in Namibia.

Chairperson Matti Amukwa tabled this proposal last week at the fishing industry consultative meeting with minister of fisheries and marine resources Albert Kawana at Swakopmund.

Amukwa said fishermen should be prioritised, because the fishing industry has under Covid-19 emergency regulations been classified as an essential industry.

“The nature of fishing requires that a number of people live and work in close contact on fishing vessels. Fishing is the first link in the value-creation chain of the fishing industry, and all other activities, such as value-adding, depend on successful catch trips of fishing vessels,” he said.

He said fishermen are crucial to the successful operation of the fishing industry, which cannot afford to have operations come to a standstill because of virus outbreaks on vessels.

Vessels ususally berth for up to 10 days before being cleared to return to fishing grounds.

“The fishing industry still continues to abide very strictly to the measures in place. Fishing … provides food security. If fishing operations are interrupted through vessels not going out, there will be no raw material for processing in factories,” Amukwa said.

He said successful and continuous fishing is critical to the industry and to those depending on it for their livelihood.

COVID-19 ON VESSELS

In recent weeks, the industry has seen vessels halt operations as a result of Covid-19 infections.

The highest number of fishermen who tested positive on one vessel was on Erongo Marine Enterprises’ midwater freezer vessel, Desert Ruby, which reported five crew members with Covid-19 symptoms.

Martha Uumati, the managing director of Erongo Marine Enterprises, says the vessel was immediately returned from the fishing grounds to Walvis Bay, and the affected crew members were immediately taken to a medical facility for attention.

On the doctor’s advice, crew members were moved to an approved quarantine and isolation facility, and Covid-19 tests were conducted.

“We have no idea how this happened. It could have been brought on board by someone who tested negative during the Covid-19 incubation period, however, we are just grateful we managed to detect the cases very early and acted immediately in the interest of the health and safety of our crew,” Uumati says.

To mitigate any further risk, the company tested the rest of the crew on board its vessels, upon which 44 fishermen tested positive for the virus.

“Further test results revealed that in total 62 crew members tested Covid-19 positive. To date, the crew members remain isolated and will only be sent back to the vessel after follow-up tests have been done and the results are negative. All crew members are in a satisfactory condition and do not display signs of illness,” Uumati says.

Three foreign national crew members also tested positive on the Carapau 1 vessel, which belongs to Carapau Fishing.

All crew members on board the vessel were tested after a fisheries observer displayed Covid-19-like symptoms, and was brought to shore for medical attention.

Carapau’s general manager, Garden Hengua, confirmed the positive cases on the vessel.

“The vessel is here onshore, and we are losing money as it is, but we have to follow the directives from the authorities,” he says.

Hengua says precautions are always taken before embarking on a fishing trip.

According to him, crew members are tested before trips, and if someone tests positive, the individual is either replaced with a casual employee, or, in the case that the employee is part of the critical skills team, the vessel does not sail.

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