Africa main importer of frozen Saharawi fish

Western Sahara Resource Watch for the first time presents an overview of the transports of frozen fish from occupied Western Sahara. Near all of it ends up in West African harbours.
Published: 30.03 - 2020 17:10Printer version    
On 24 March 2020, the Liberian-flagged Savanna Breeze (IMO 9791274) sailed out of the port of Warri, Nigeria, after having completed a transport of around 5,000 tonnes of frozen fish from occupied Western Sahara. On its way over, it had dropped off cargo in the ports of Abidjan, Tema and Lagos.

The vessel is a so-called ‘reefer’ – a refrigerated cargo vessel that is specialised in shipping frozen products. The Savanna Breeze’s mission to West African ports marks the last of such transports of the current fishing season offshore Western Sahara, lasting from August to March each year.

For the first time, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) presents aggregate figures of such reefers that have carried out so-called ‘transshipments’ in the anchorage area offshore the fishing town of Dakhla, located along the mid-coast of Western Sahara. A transshipment at sea is when a cargo is transferred from one boat to another, in this case from a fishing vessel onto a reefer. The practice of transshipments offshore Dakhla has been going on for decades. The area where the transshipments take place is often referred to as ‘Lasarka’. The picture above shows such a transshipment episode documented in 2012.

From what WSRW has been able to establish, 23 transshipments onto 19 different reefer ships took place in the waters near Dakhla over the course of the calendar year of 2019. Download the list of the 2019 reefer transports here.

This totalled an estimated 139,000 tonnes of frozen fish. WSRW's most conservative estimate of the value of this amount of frozen fish - using the world prize for sardines as point of reference - puts it at about US $ 100 million.

The export destinations are primarily African countries:  Ivory Coast (Abidjan), Nigeria (Lagos/Warri/Port Harcourt/Bonny), Ghana (Tema), Togo (Lomé), Benin (Cotonou), Democratic Republic of Congo (Boma), and Morocco (Agadir). In addition, reefers travelled on three occasions to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in Europe.

The article continues underneath the graphic.


Most of the fish transported aboard the reefers was caught by Russian trawlers. Since 10 March 2016, Russia has had a fisheries agreement with Morocco, for an annual catch of 140,000 tonnes of fish. The agreement has been applied offshore the occupied territory of Western Sahara, in violation of international law. The agreement specifies that 23% of the catches should be sardine/sardinella and 75% mackerel, horse mackerel, anchovy. WSRW estimates that the transported cargo could consist of 32,000 tonnes of sardine/sardinella, and 104,000 tonnes of mackerel.

Neither the Russian-Moroccan agreement, nor the other incidents observed, have seemingly been carried out after obtaining permission from the Saharawi authorities. The fisheries practices, transshipments and exports are done in violation of international law.

Mid-March 2020, the last Russian fishing boats left Western Sahara waters for a few months, thereby temporarily pauzing the fish transshipment activities in Dakhla anchorage. The fleet is expected to return to Western Sahara over the summer.

In addition to the Russian fleet, transshipments were also observed from the two Latvian vessels Marshal Vasilevskiy (on three occasions) and Fishing Success (twice), as well as from the Lithuanian vessel Ieva Simonaytite (once).

The volume monitored in 2019 is similar to what WSRW observed the year before. In 2018, WSRW observed 25 instances of transshipments of Saharawi fish onto a reefer in the same Dakhla Anchorage, involving 20 different reefers. The quantity was estimated to be around 150,000 tonnes.

The reefers involved in the illegal plunder during 2019 were Frio Chikuma, Frio Forwin, Frio Marathon, Frio Poseidon, Lagoon Phoenix, Libra, Montelaura, Nestos Reefer, Nor Cape, Nova Zeelandia, Novaya Zemlya, Noviy Svet, Orange Sea, Orange Strait, Prince Of Seas, Savanna Breeze, Scombrus, Taganrogskiy Zaliv and Water Phoenix.

The Russian vessels involved in transshipment incidents were Kapitan Bogomolov, Vasiliy Lozovskiy, Zakhar Sorokin, Nikolay Telenkov, Aleksandr Mironenkov, Atlas, Pavel Kutakhov and Admiral Shabalin.

Four particular events are of note with regard to the 2019 reefer activity:

  • The reefer Green Glacier transshipped in Dakhla’s waters around the end of 2018 and in January 2019, and subsequently sailed to South Africa with stop-overs for discharging in Abidjan and in Tema. The South African authorities, media and activists were duly informed about the arrival of the illegal cargo. The vessel avoided landing in South Africa, and turned back to Abidjan after having spent several hours  just outside of Cape Town without any activity. WSRW reported on the matter extensively at the time.

  • Also around the end of January 2019, the reefer Yun Der announced for Dakhla but ended up changing her voyage to Nouadhibou were she then took in a cargo. It never arrived in Western Sahara.

  • Few days later, the Green Glacier, announced to be heading back for Dakhla from Abidjan, also changed course. The vessel never arrived in Dakhla, and has not been back there since.

  • In September 2019, the Montelaura collided with a Moroccan fishing boat while arriving offshore Dakhla. Some fishermen were reported missing. The reefer stayed in Dakhla’s harbour for a week before leaving for Noudhibou. It is not clear whether she took in a cargo or not in Dakhla.

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