In the night of 23 April 2012, 25 fishermen denounced their economic marginalisation in occupied Western Sahara, by boarding the Swedish operated vessel ‘Meya’ in the harbour of Dakhla, according to local sources.
WSRW has spoken to people on the ground in Dakhla, who unanimously confirmed that the fishermen had boarded the vessel, and had chained themselves to the ship’s deck in protest of their systematic exclusion from being employed on fishing vessels. The demonstration illustrates the frustration over Morocco’s ongoing exploitation of the native soil and waters of the territory it illegally occupies. WSRW has not received footage of the protest.
The Moroccan military subsequently arrived at the scene to remove the protesters from the vessel. Saharawi human rights activists based in Dakhla have before signalled the increasing military presence in Dakhla, in preparation of a visit by the Moroccan king Mohamed VI to the occupied city. After allegedly blocking the ship for 13 hours, the group of protesters agreed to leave the boat if they’d get a chance to discuss their grievances with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. A meeting between the fishermen and government officials took place on 25 April at the local office of aforementioned Ministry. It is not known to WSRW what came out of the meeting.
The Belize-flagged Meya (IMO: 8616142) has since January 2012 been operated and managed by Swedish company Swemar AB, in turn controlled by the Swedish Kjellberg family. In April 2009, members of the same group were charged in a Swedish court for fisheries activities offshore Western Sahara in violation of Swedish laws, with other vessels that they have operated in the same controversial waters. The case has been repeatedly postponed.
The company Pesa Consorcio Ltd is registered owner of the Meya trawler. Pesa Consorcio Ltd is registered in Morocco and was established in 2011, but works from the C/O address of the Swedish managers in Västra Frölunda, Sweden. Sources in Western Sahara, say that the captain of the vessel was named Hilmar Snorrason, and that the vessel was manned with two Swedish and 16 Moroccan crew members.
The Saharawi fishermen based in Dakhla claim that the fish stored at the Meya had been obtained through deals with Moroccan generals and businessmen, who control the fishing sector in occupied Western Sahara. “71% of the catches on board of the ship came from Abdelaziz Bennani. And the remaining 29% were bought from the Moroccan Kabbage business-group”, says one of the fishermen, who prefers to remain anonymous. WSRW has seen no proof that documents that claim.
The Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al Youm recently published a list of the principal possessors of fishing licenses. Heading that list was Military Inspector General and Army Commander, Lieutenant General Abdelaziz Bennani. A telegram sent to Washington in 2008 by then U.S. ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Riley, already hinted upon Bennani’s business, according to Wikileaks-cable 08 Rabat 727. "Credible reports indicate that Lt Gen Benanni is using his position as the Commander of the Southern Sector to skim money from military contracts and influence business decisions. A widely believed rumor has it that he owns large parts of the fisheries in Western Sahara. Benanni, like many senior military officers, has a lavish family home that was likely built with money gleaned from bribes. Leadership positions in regional sectors are a significant source of extralegal income for military leaders. "
Just 9 days before the protest, the Moroccan Ministry for Fisheries and Agriculture had distributed new fishing licenses to investors installed in occupied Western Sahara, with the objective to sell them to European companies as an alternative source of income to the EU-Morocco fish accord, rejected by the European Parliament on 14 December 2011. Among the beneficiaries of the new licensing hand-out, was the Kabbage imperium.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.