THE two businessmen who were brought over to Honiara from Ontong Java atolls last week were left disappointed after no charges were laid against them.
Ontong Java medical practitioner and entrepreneur Dr Reginald Aipia and his business partner from Pacific Aquaculture Cooperatives International Inc Erik Hagberg were shipped over to Honiara last week for questioning over their farming business on the atoll.
However, since their arrival no charges were laid much to their disappointment..
Both the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in a joint operation with Maritime Police transported them to Honiara.
Speaking to the paper both of them said; “we are very disappointed after the patrol boat transported us over from Ontong Java atolls with no warrant of arrest or criminal activities or breach of the fisheries laws.
“Upon arrival, we were whisked away to the Police station for questioning as if we are common criminals and then there were no questioning.
“But after more than four hours of waiting, no officers from Fisheries or the police turned up to talk with us or lay charges against us or question us.
“So what is the purpose of apprehending us at our business premises in Ontong Java and whisking us under police force in a police boat to Honiara? The duo questioned when interviewed by this paper yesterday.
The business partners said, they have no idea of what is going on with the authorities.
“It is just so frustrating and waste of time to wait without food and water for so long.
“We ask a police officer at the Rove leaf hut and he said he was following orders from the bosses,” the duo said.
Mr Aipia explained that the Ministry of Fisheries were stooped and tricked about illegal harvesting of bechedemer.
“We do not harvest bechedemer as claimed by the Director Fisheries.
“My company (Ontong Java Development Company) farm it and conduct a pilot project for the endangered marine species for recovery and replenishing of its stock in our atoll waters,” the Ontong Javanese man said.
He claimed that the mission to have them transported over to Honiara seems to be an orchestrated plan by some senior government officers.
“I do farm white teat bechedemer and the timing with the lifting of the ban is what got the Ministry of Fisheries confused about.
“They thought I use it as a cover up to harvest sea cucumbers.
“In that case, where is the evidence that they can detain or charge it against me? Mr Aipia said.
“I am not interested in harvesting as the ban is lifted.
“I am more interested in the long term development goals of my farming project,” he said.
Meanwhile, the American Marine Biologists Mr Hagberg said he has contacted his Embassy and consulate in Honiara about the issue.
“I am a business consultant and help by my Embassy thus I have the right to question the exercise and its purpose.
“What the Fisheries and Police Maritime officers do is against our will.
“We will have a lawyer filing a lawsuit against ministry for vicious slander, numerous false accusations and false witnesses, and even police harassment,” the American man said.
Mr Hagberg said if the ministry of Fisheries is serious, then they should bring over marine scientist or technical expert personnel to study the farm.
“They only come and take photos and observe the farms whilst no scientific studies or assessment are done to see the work we have been doing in the reefs for three months.
“The proof is that we do farming and for sure, it exceeded my expectations.
“The spawning and ranching and clouding process yielded success and it produced more stock than expected,” he said.
“I have worked in many countries and this is one of the best successes I came across,” he added.
“I recommend the senior officers to travel over to Ontong Java and see for themselves the successes of this project,” he further adds.
“This project should be the focus of the government as it will be an industry in the near future, as for illegal harvesting, that is not a true story.
Mr Aipia also provide a letter from the Director of Fisheries Edward Houniwala dated 1st June 2017 pledging MFMR’s approval and support of the sea cucumber ranching and farming trials on Ontong Java.
Documents showed that the proposal to start the project started way back in 2012.
Then in 2014, the project was endorsed by Supervising Minister of Fisheries Hon Clay Forau and later that year confirmed by Chief Fisheries Officer Aquaculture Alex Meloty.
But over the weekend, Drector of Fisheries Mr Honiwala claimed Aipia did not have any proper permits with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to carry out farming of bechedemer, therefore they see his activities as illegal.
In the meantime, the pilot project cost a total of nearly SBD2.5 million.
A presentation of the pilot project findings will be made by the OJDC and Pacific Aquaculture Cooperatives International Inc to the PM Caucus sometimes next week.
The two conservationists said their forced removal from their mariculture project site and left in Honiara in uncertainty is costing them huge opportunity costs.
By TEDDY KAFO