International World Maritime Day
From maritime interdictions to turn-tables.
The oceans represent the largest ecosystem on the planet, a romantic mystery to many, a boon for coastal communities, but also an opportunity for transnational organized crime to operate, but not unpunished.
On World Maritime Day, we meet one of the people on the frontlines of maritime law enforcement in Namibia, Officer Fransiskus Negumbo, or DJ Fra as he is known when he takes off his uniform and puts on his dancing shoes, who tells us more about his work, what motivates him every day, the horrors and dangers one has to face and the lessons he has learned throughout his career.
“My name is Fransiskus Negumbo, Detective Warrant Officer with the Commercial Crime Unit, currently seconded to the Container Control Program in Walvis Bay. I am not from Walvis Bay originally, but Oshakati in Northern Namibia, close to the Angolan border. I didn’t always want to be in law enforcement. As a child I wanted to be a teacher, it is also when I realized I had a talent for music and started singing in the local choir. My interest in police work developed during my studies and after graduating from university. I moved to Windhoek for training before being transferred to Walvis Bay. I joined the Criminal Investigation Team and was assigned to the port. I was good at my job so I was eventually appointed Unit Commander in 2015.
I have conducted a number of maritime interdictions. Involving both Namibian citizens and international operatives. It is not always easy. When you deal with global maritime crime, you are challenging international criminal networks, and this has consequences.
My life was threatened for doing my job.
I can’t provide details, but once I arrested a ship and its crew members. After several weeks I started receiving phone calls. The first call came from a private number. The person introduced himself as a person of interest wanting to meet me and talk about the vessel. He invited me to a restaurant. I told him that I couldn’t do that and if he wanted information, he should come to the police station in the port. He said he couldn’t do that either but would offer me one million NAD (50,000 USD) to release the vessel. When I refused, he told me to think about it and hung up.
After a few days I received a call from another person, asking me if I had thought on the offer. I declined again, at which point the caller said that if I was going to be difficult, I would see what would happen. And then I started being followed sometimes to work, sometimes back home. There would be the same black car following me. Thankfully I reported this to my office and started getting protection from my colleagues, and eventually the following stopped. There was an investigation into it as well, but sometimes these investigations don’t go anywhere because of the political corruption involved. I cannot disclose names, but several politicians were named and involved with the criminal syndicate.
I was in a relationship at the time and have son. The fear wasn’t for my own safety, as law enforcement, you are mentally prepared, you are trained, knowing that one day you might wake up, go to work and never come back, but I feared for those who were close to me.
Things aren’t always straightforward when you conduct interdictions. Sometimes you find that the crew was coerced and threatened into committing crimes by their captain or hardened criminals. They are not always bad people.
On one occasion I arrested a vessel with a foreign crew. People from Asia and South Asia. They had been smuggled into Namibia and found themselves prisoners on the vessel, unable to leave, for two years they had stayed on board without communicating with anyone, not their family, no one. Those cases are very hard because you are dealing with people who are traumatized and then criminalized. The case is ongoing so I cannot provide details, but some of them were supported to return home. How many more years would they have remained captive if we hadn’t intervened?
It is important to do your job well, and for that you need to show emotional intelligence and empathy, so you can tell what is happening when it might not be immediately obvious to you.
My family are proud of my work and achievements, and my colleagues are supportive of my musical career. I recorded two albums before joining the police and one since. I do Gospel, Kwaito and House music. I perform for my colleagues and private and public functions; I also recorded a track for a capacity building workshop I participated in recently. Creating music helps me take a step back from work and put things in perspective. And I have the proper authorizations from senior management, so it’s all legal.
It is important to me that it is legal. I am a policeman. It is born in me. I won’t let crime go unpunished.”
UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) works closely with Member States in enhancing and coordinating their efforts against maritime crime.
On 24 September 2021, Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNODC and World Customs Organization’s joint Container Control Programme (CCP). The MoU was signed by the Namibia Revenue Agency, the Namibian Police Force, the Namibian Ports Authority, and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism. The event marked the official opening of the first Port Control Unit (PCU) in the country. The PCU, located in the seaport of Walvis Bay, is dedicated to countering illicit trafficking in maritime containers. PCU Walvis Bay is the first CCP Unit in Southern Africa to become operational. This development was championed by national and international partners such as the US Embassy in Namibia.
Another CCP/PCU was open in Luanda, Angola, also in September 2021 and in Maputo, Mozambique in November 2022.