The last ship that can be seen in Puerto de Naos, Lanzarote, is the Gaztelugaitz. The position of this Basque tuna vessel has remained static for six months on all vessel locating radars. The 30-meter-long, 7-meter-wide fishing boat arrived at Arrecife from Dakhla at the end of February, after the overexploitation of fishing in Senegal forced the shipowner to look for alternatives. However, the outcome has been the abandonment of a crew of eleven Senegalese on a pier without enough food, salary, or documentation. As of this Wednesday, of this group of sailors only one remains inside the ship. Far from having reached an agreement with the shipowner, the Senegalese have chosen to find a solution on their own and move to the homes of relatives in different parts of Spain.
Sources close to the fishermen have assured that on the night of Tuesday, July 13, the shipowner went on board together with the National Border Police and made a small payment to them. These same sources point out that the chief “threatened” to report them if they did not abandon the ship. “The intention of the shipowner is to tire them and to leave to report that they have abandoned ship,” they value. “Because of fear”, almost all the sailors have already left. This wording has tried to contact some of the fishermen who have left the boat, but they have refused.
The inspector in the Canary Islands of the International Transport Worker’s Federation (ITF), Gonzalo Galán, explains that his union has filed a complaint, and now it is the Labor Inspection that must act ex officio. “We do not understand why they have brought the crew if they do not have permission to work in Spain,” he defends. Furthermore, it regrets that the fishermen have been left in a situation of helplessness.
The ship’s mechanic is the last remaining sailor inside the Gaztelugaitz, and he remains confident that the owner will offer a solution. “They have told me that on July 21 I will be able to return to Senegal,” he told Canarias Now.
Until this moment, all had subsisted inside the small boat thanks to the solidarity of the neighbors. Especially from Moussa, a compatriot living on the island who provided them with food. The Apostolate of the Sea has also been part of this network, which has also been supported by Caritas. This organization, although it has not provided direct assistance, collaborated by offering food to the Church dedicated to assisting people who work at sea.
The conflict of the Basque tuna vessels
The presence of Basque tuna vessels from Senegal in the ports of the Canary Islands in recent months has unleashed tension among island fishermen. The Gaztelugaitz is not the only fishing boat in the Basque Country that has appeared on the islands in 2021. In March, the Aita Fraxku docked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Its owner, according to industry sources, is the same as that of the Senegalese crew abandoned in Lanzarote. Now.plus has tried to locate it without success.
The Regional Federation of Fishermen’s Guilds of the Canary Islands denounced then that the Aita Fraxku was fishing off the coast of Tenerife. Canarian sailors were “threatened by the entry of competitors”, while the Basque Government asked the Canarian Executive for the necessary permits for three pole-and-line tuna vessels from the Basque Country to fish for live bait in waters near the Islands. Its purpose was to “try to recover part of its activity” while the ban on fishing in Senegal lasted due to the overexploitation of resources.
The European Union pays Senegal 1.7 million euros a year so that European vessels can fish in Senegalese waters. At least 20 Spanish flag vessels benefit from these permits to catch mainly hake and tuna, in a territory where fishing feeds most of the local population. These vessels are also joined by vessels from China or Russia, with the consequent overexploitation of the area’s resources, forcing local fishermen to go deeper into the ocean in order to access their own resources.
This is one of the main causes of the increase in arrivals of young Senegalese to the Canary Islands in boats and cayucos in recent years. According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 33% of the people who leave Senegal for Spain work in fishing. In particular, in the case of the migrants who come from Saint Louis and Mbour, two of the key points in the departure of cayucos to the Archipelago both in the reception crisis of 2020 and in the so-called crisis of the cayucos of 2006.
As of October 2020, the number of cayucos arriving on the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife, increased. Sources from the fishing sector explain that at this time of year there is a biological strike in artisanal fishing, a measure that provides that for a month and a half the fish can reproduce so as not to end the fishing grounds. For the families that survive thanks to this sector, a month and a half without fishing is ruin.