Mozambique’s tuna fleet rusts as an African success story fades

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MAPUTO (Reuters) – The 24 fishing boats rusting in the harbour of Mozambique’s capital were meant to be a modern tuna fleet that would rake in hard currency, create jobs and provide a cheap source of protein for one of the world’s poorest countries.

Instead, they have become monuments to government mismanagement and heavy lending by Western banks that has buried a promising African economy in a deep debt crisis.

The boats, moored in the harbour of Maputo, were paid for out of an $850-million (588 million pounds) loan arranged in 2013 by Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB to finance “fishing infrastructure”. The cash came in the form of a government-backed bond to state tuna-fishing company Ematum.

Nearly three years later, the fishing project, initially touted as self-sustaining, is defunct and has contributed to a sovereign foreign debt mountain equal to 80 percent of GDP that could bankrupt the southeast African nation’s government.

Not only did Ematum fall short of its targets but $500 million of the “tuna bond” was found to be for maritime security and had to reallocated to the defence budget.

“Sorry sir, we don’t have tuna on the menu,” said Raul, a waiter at a restaurant overlooking the dormant fleet. “The boats never go out. They are resting.”

Even when they did sail, in Ematum’s early days, the fleet never caught the amount of fish that would have been needed over a long period to pay off the debt.

Ematum’s results published last year pointed to the fleet catching just $450,000 of tuna a year, compared with sales of $18 million forecast at that stage of its life in a 2013 feasibility study circulated by the government.

Ematum officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31