The N$340m deep-sea research vessel, RV Mirabilis has malfunctioned.
Acquired 20 months ago by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, from Finland, the vessel has been going at sea but failing to complete research due to bottom trawling incapacity.
Permanent secretary in the line ministry, Ulitala Hiveluah, confirmed that the vessel has been failing to carryout tasks that enable the ministry to conclusively study fish and semi-pelgic species, among others rockfish, squid, shrimp and sole.
This, at a time when Namibia is worried that seismic explorations of gas and oil on our waters is leading to depletion of tuna output, which was estimated to be below 650 tonnes in 2013, from 1800 tonnes in 2013.
“The vessel is not under repair. It has been going to sea since it came but cannot do bottom trawling,” Hiveluah said, adding, guarantee engineers are always assessing the vessels to ensure it carries out other operations properly.
It’s malfunctioning cripples research efforts, especially because Government commissioned a task force to assess the effects of seismic explorations on the fishing industry last year.
However, with the Mirabilis only restricted to environmental surveys, the process is in shambles.
The RV Mirabilis was manufactured by STX Finland on request by the Namibian government, to be used for data collection on fish stock and their environment.
The vessel is also supposed to monitor fish stock, sorting, processing, freezing and storage of fish while being able to collect biological samples for seabed research for the controlling of fishing activities.
Having been procured with the assistance of the Finnish government, which gave an interest free loan to Namibia, the latter is therefore paying N$185m on behalf of Namibia for the interests incurred on the loan that government took for the construction of RV Mirabilis.
The construction of this vessel was at the request of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as the old vessel, Welwitschia, which had been given as a gift from Japan in 1994, had been unable to help the ministry meet its targets with its increasing responsibilities at sea.
The Welwitschia was unable to support deep water trawling and it also had limited space on its deck, making it difficult to accommodate the scientific teams, hence the purchase of RV Mirablis.
Trawling should be done by small open boats with 30hp (22kW) or factory trawlers with 10 000hp (7 500kW). Also, bottom trawling can be carried out by a single trawler or two.
Bottom trawling includes benthic and demersal trawling. Benthic trawling is towing a net at the bottom of the ocean while demersal trawling is towing the net above the benthic zone.
The RV Mirabilis is supposed to help the ministry in providing data on the fisheries and marine biology, as it accommodates different tasks for maintaining fish stock and studying the marine. This includes sorting, processing, freezing and storing fish for scientific purposes.
The vessel, which is equipped with three oceanographic laboratories on deck three, is supposed to multitask into the areas of meteorology research and water quality research and analyses.
The vessel was ordered in February 2011, its construction started in December that year and was finished in April 2012, before Namibia received it in June that year.
Impact of bottom trawling
Although the fish is built to occupy bottom trawling, the process has been put under strict controls in some fishing countries, because the weight and width of a bottom trawl can destroy seafloor habitats that give marine species food and shelter.
During bottom trawling, some endangered sea creatures are mistakenly caught in the nets. They are then thrown back into the ocean dead or injured. Some of the trawling can also cause damage to deep-sea coral, which is supposed to survive for hundreds of years.
The ministry has refused to shed light on whether or not the vessel could have caused damage onto the seafloor when the problem arose. And the director of policy planning and economics within the ministry, Anna Erastus who heads the tuna depletion research task force, referred all questions to her permanent secretary, Hiveluah.