The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) annually distributes fishing quotas for specific species among its member states, including Vanuatu. Historically, the management of Vanuatu’s quota for these species has been exclusively entrusted to a Panamanian firm known as Unimed Glory SA.
Unimed Glory SA is among the numerous companies suspected of being under the control of the Laskaridis Family based in Athens.
Unimed Glory SA has been marketing Vanuatu’s fishing quota in accordance with an alleged agreement dating back to 2010, signed by an individual who later assumed the role of a Vanuatu Member of Parliament and Minister. Notably, this agreement lacks the endorsement or awareness of the Council of Ministers, the Tenders Board, or the State Law Office. Although it bears the initials of a former fisheries minister, this individual denies ever signing or stamping it. There is also a purported amendment to this agreement dating back to 2012.
Honorable Marc Ati, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, expressed concerns about the 2010 Agreement and the 2012 amendment, suggesting possible forgery. Legal advice received by the government deems the agreement invalid, even if not forged, as it was signed without proper authority. A criminal investigation is currently in progress, with potential arrests and legal actions forthcoming.
Importantly, this agreement lacks an expiration date.
When Vanuatu’s Special Envoy to SPRFMO discovered the existence of this agreement earlier this year and attempted to terminate it, Unimed Glory SA initiated legal proceedings in the Commercial Court in England, securing an injunction to prevent Vanuatu from selling its quota.
The annual value of this quota is estimated at around $15 million US dollars (approximately VT1.5 billion). According to the agreement, Vanuatu was supposed to receive a fixed rate of $2 US dollars (approximately VT200) per tonne, without any indexing. Consequently, as the catch’s value increases, Vanuatu’s supposed earnings remain stagnant.
To date, Vanuatu has not received any of the funds owed under this agreement, which now exceeds $550,000 US dollars (approximately VT55 million). Unimed Glory SA contends that the funds were transferred to Tuna Fishing (Vanuatu) Co Ltd at their request. Vanuatu has initiated legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of Vanuatu to recover these funds. Tuna Fishing (Vanuatu) Co Ltd acknowledges receiving the funds but claims that they were for different services. Moreover, they assert that the invoices referring to quota payments under the agreement, which they sent to Unimed Glory SA, were falsified and issued at the instruction of Unimed Glory SA.
Honorable Marc Ati emphasized that Vanuatu, a beautiful country with limited natural resources, must responsibly manage these resources for current and future generations. These resources do not belong to any individual or company. The situation represents an alarming case of exploitation and injustice that needs to be rectified. The Jack Mackerel quota stands as one of Vanuatu’s most valuable resources, and the compensation Vanuatu was supposed to receive was minimal, to begin with, and has not been received.
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Honorable Jotham Napat, has filed a criminal complaint against several individuals in both Vanuatu and overseas.
To expedite the recovery of Vanuatu’s quota, the Commissioner for Offshore Fisheries has been authorized to instruct Vanuatu’s legal representatives in England accordingly.