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Porthole on a fishing vessel.

A global supply chain investigation with Canadian connections

Porthole on a fishing vessel.

How to get away with [potential] murder

Dyhia Belhabib bylineHere is a story that dives into a criminal case that transcends borders, echoing through the international maritime domain, where crimes thrive with impunity but no accountability. I will tell the story of the tragic demise of Samuel Abayateye, a 38-year-old fisheries observer and father of two, from Ghana, whose mysterious death reveals intricate webs of intrigue and negligence that touch us all, including here in Canada.

On October 30, 2023, Samuel was reported missing from the boat he was observing on just days after he told his brother he wanted to report an incident. Although his death was suspicious, an initial police investigation found “no signs of violence or anything incriminating,” the Ghanaian police told the media. The world was ready to accept this as yet another tragic observer disappearance.

Except, on December 9, 2023, a dismembered body was discovered on a beach in Ghana by Samuel’s brother. Five months after his body was found, authorities still haven’t conducted a DNA test; however, his brother was able to identify Samuel by the shirt he was wearing and a distinctive mark on his back.

What unfolds from this grim discovery is not just a local crime story somewhere in Africa far from those of us in Canada, but a reminder of our potential complicity in the systemic issues in the global seafood supply chain, murder, abuse, and slavery.

You and I both play a role. What we put on our plates may be directly linked to the death of Samuel. This is why I have spent the past decade documenting cases of illegal fishing, slavery, and murder at sea. Viral boycott movements, alongside the systemic documentation of these types of incidents and potential crimes, have contributed greatly to cutting the financial lifeline of many rogue, criminal, and unsustainable ventures around the world. The creation of at Ecotrust Canada was a stepping stone in ensuring access to such information. In this particular case, understanding what happened could help inform future decisions and your fish shopping choices and bring accountability and (potentially) justice to the family.

Samuel was working as an observer in charge of reporting catches and crimes on the Marine 707. Registered in Ghana at a PO box but with ties to Korean companies, Marine 707 has a troubled past. It was detained by Nigerian authorities in 2020 on piracy suspicions and owned by a company charged with illicit fishing a few years back. These incidents alone raise questions about the vessel’s operations and the entities profiting from its activities.

Observers at sea are (often) government employees or contractors that are tasked with reporting fish catches and other related operations, and note any compliance issues, including illegal activities. In Samuel’s case, he was an observer placed on a boat whose owner who had a history of illicit activities in Ghana.

Ok, one may say. What do I have to do with this as a Canadian?  

Over 60% of Ghanaian tuna production ends up in the European Union and North American markets, including here in Canada. We, as consumers, often overlook the journey our seafood takes before it reaches our plates. Some of us may think that getting certified seafood is a good way to go. However, certifications like “Friends of the Sea” can mask underlying issues, lulling us into a false sense of ethical consumption.

Canada lacks legislation akin to France’s law that mandates big companies to ensure clean supply chains, hence holding them 100% accountable. This regulatory gap allows products with dubious origins, like some Ghanaian tuna linked to vessels with dark histories to enter our markets unchecked. The silence of regulators and consumers alike perpetuates a cycle of complicity, where human rights abuses, environmental violations, and other crimes at sea remain hidden behind labels and certifications and behind our silent comfort. The case of Samuel Abayateye underscores the urgent need for transparency and accountability in global supply chains, including those supplying Canadian markets. It prompts us to ask uncomfortable questions about where our seafood comes from, who benefits from its production, and at what cost to human lives and the environment.

As Samuel’s family, including his 100-year-old mother, is longing for answers, we’re reminded that behind every product we consume lies a complex network of actors, from fishermen to multinational corporations, each playing a role in shaping the narratives of exploitation or sustainability. Samuel Abayateye’s tragic demise is a stark reminder of why Canadians  need ethically sourced seafood. We need to engage critically with the products we consume, advocate for stronger regulations, and ensure that our seafood doesn’t come at the cost of human rights violations or environmental degradation, whether in Ghana or closer to home.