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Govt slapped with $10m fine

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THE High Court has ordered the Solomon Islands Government and the Ministry of Fisheries to pay Marine Exports Limited more than $10 million for damages.

This was in relation to the government’s banning of dolphin export in 2005.

The court granted the order for loss from dolphin feeds in the sum of $2,073,600, order for loss of property (38 dolphins) in the sum of $7,527,733.75 and the order for exemplary damages in the sum of $500,000.

The order for loss of profit (loss from contract) in the sum of $4,785,600 and the order for interest to be included were refused.

The cost of the hearing was also ordered to be paid by the government.

The decision on assessment of damages was delivered on November 25, last year before Judge, Justice Rex Foukona five years after the default judgment orders were made in 2006.

The Claimant, Marine Exports Limited has filed a claim at the High Court against the Minister of Fisheries and the Solomon Islands Government (defendant) for the damages.

Marine Exports Limited (Claimant) which is a limited company incorporated in the Solomon Islands in 2002 specialized in capturing wild dolphins, keeping them in captivity in a purpose built facility, breed and train them, and from time to time export them overseas.

The Claimant was first granted export permit and had exported dolphins to Mexico in 2003.

However, on January 13, 2005 the cabinet decided to effectively ban export of any live dolphins from Solomon Islands.

On June 8, 2005, the Claimant executed a contract with Wildlife International Network Inc of Orlando, Florida, USA to purchase twenty-five (25) bottlenose dolphins.

On or about September 2005, the Claimant lodged an application for export permit for the 25 dolphins with the Ministry of Fisheries and the sum of $100 paid as the required fee.

The application was never granted.

There was ought to be two licences possessed by an entrepreneur dealing with export of life dolphins.

The first licence is to capture life collection and holding of marine mammals in sea pen, Section 34 of Fisheries Act while the second is an export permit normally issued under the discretionary power of the Director of Fisheries for the purpose of export under section 32(1) of the Fisheries Act.

In October 24, 2005, the Claimant in a Civil Case No.511 of 2005, commenced proceedings for mandamus to compel the Director of Fisheries to issue the export permit.

The Minister of Fisheries then (November 24, 2005) made an order entitled Fisheries (Prohibition of Export of Dolphins) Regulation 2005, per Legal Notice No.123, gazetted on November 25, 2005.

Attached to the legal notice was a specific mention of species of dolphin which the Claimant was breeding and intended to export.

Counsel for the Claimant argued that his client was precluded from performing the contract dated June 28th 2005 to export 25 live dolphins as a result of unexpected promulgation of a law prohibiting the export of the dolphin.

The Claimant has shown that a wrong had been committed as judgment had been given in its favour.

And that an arbitrary and oppressive act had been committed by the state which deprives its business by making an unconstitutional law to prohibit it from exporting dolphins.

Counsel for the defendant however submits and denies any unlawful interference by the state and said that the Claimant has never had a permit to export live dolphins from Solomon Islands in 2005 but only possessed fish processing licence to capture wild dolphins and breed and kept in a pen.

Justice Foukona said he had the liberty of running through the Fisheries Act and “unfortunately there is nothing in the Act to assist”.

He said the orders of the Court on December 13, 2006, nullifying the Regulation for being made an improper purpose, is correct and proper.

Solomon Star contacted the Attorney General Billy Titiulu yesterday who admitted that the government is going to pay the fine.

“We are waiting for tax dues so that we can pay up.”

He said although it was not the making of the current government, tax payers will shoulder the cost of the previous government’s actions.