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20 Dec 2021

Gideon Sarpong, iWatch Africa (Ghana)

Ghana: Journalistic investigation identifies network of Chinese fishing companies operating in breach of foreign ownership law

"China’s trespassing vessels and the economic impact on Ghana’s fisheries sector" 20 December 2021

It is now over two years since Emmanuel Essien, a fishing observer vanished onboard a Chinese owned trawler called Meng Xin 15 in 2019. Ghana’s Minister of Information announced in October 2021 that an investigation into Essien’s disappearance had been concluded and a case docket has been submitted to the Attorney General for onward action.

Emmanuel Essien embarked on an observer mission in July 2019 but never returned. An observer’s job is to collect data on fishing activities and report on illegal practices occurring at sea.

The vessel he accompanied on that fateful Monday is registered locally as Kenbonad Fisheries Ltd, but investigations have shown that it is owned and operated by the Chinese company, Dalian Mengxin Ocean Fishery Co. Ltd.

“The Ghanaian law expressly forbids foreign ownership of industrial trawl vessels operating under the Ghanaian flag both in terms of ownership on paper, and, crucially, in terms of those who profit from the vessel – known as the ‘beneficial owners,” says Steve Trent, Director of Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). [...]

Ghana fishery officials have failed to take any action against fishing vessels owned by Dalian Mengxin despite the widespread evidence of beneficial ownership. As at 2021, twelve vessels owned by the Dalian Megxin were fronted by five companies registered locally in Ghana. [...]

A three-month investigation by Gideon Sarpong based on interviews with dozens of fishery experts, court records and company financial documents has shown a network of Chinese control and ownership of many industrial fishing vessels currently operating in Ghanaian waters in contravention of local laws.

The investigation revealed that these Chinese companies; Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Company Limited and Rongcheng Marine Fishery Co. Ltd have set up over ten “front” companies holding fishing licenses from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Ghana.

The investigation also shows that illegal trawler activities have significantly reduced Ghana’s fish stock, draining the economy of over $50m a year according to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). [...]

Repeated attempts were made to locate the contact details for these companies to approach them for comment, despite the lack of publicly accessible contact data or websites in Ghana.

Both Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Co. Ltd and Rongcheng Marine Fishery Co. Ltd did not respond to requests for comments. [...]

Part of the following timelines

China's distant-water fishing fleet raises concern over labour rights and commercial sustainability

Ghana: Journalistic investigation reveals network of Chinese fishing companies operating in breach of foreign ownership law