GOV’T FACES $31M LAWSUIT

Dolphin centre operator fights back

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SOLMARINE Mammal Breeding Centre is claiming $31.8 million in damages and loss from the government in a lawsuit filed in the High Court this week.
This is for the ‘raid and destruction’ of their dolphin captive breeding facility on Bungana Island, Central Islands Province, by Fisheries officials and police, on October 29 this year.
Twenty-seven dolphins were freed during the raid on the centre, which is operated by the country’s only qualified veterinary Dr Baddeley Anita.
Dr Anita said his legal team has already filed the lawsuit (Civil case no. 526 of 2016) with the High Court.
He said the $31.8 million claim can be substantiated and proven with bank documents; government treasury receipts (GTR) and signed contracts which are now breached.
“This captive breeding program which is 100 percent indigenously owned and legally operated, was initiated in 2009/2010 and was fully operational from 2011 – took us six years to develop but sadly was destroyed by Fisheries and the police in 15 minutes and unfortunately we were not given the chance to explain our side of the story,” Dr Anita said.
He said there is nothing fishy about the project as their development and management plans were brought to the attention of the Ministries of Fisheries and Environment without any objection.
“We then proceed onto invest millions of dollars of borrowed funds and our own hard earned funds.
“From day one of the project we received no notice or complaints from the respective ministries.”
Dr Anita explained that the project goals are aquatic veterinary medicine, dolphin disease studies & research, captive breeding programs, aquatic animal husbandry training and other related aquatic animal programs with other foreign institutions and researchers.
“Export of animals born and raised in captivity is an integral part of the project to sustain the entire project and pay for all the logistics and salary of our 30 employees who are now unemployed after six years of employment.
“We have been to the Fisheries office on a number of occasions, to the Crown council in the AG chambers and to the prime minister’s office regarding this issue.
“The last visits were in September 2016 and the response was very positive. How it ended up like this one month later is beyond comprehension.”
He added that in 2014, the cabinet of the Lilo government directed the removal of this fisheries regulation that was gazzetted in 2013.
“It was the Attorney General, Billy Titiulu who advised us stakeholders. After three years the fisheries department did nothing to formalise this cabinet directive.”
He said the captive breeding program is a cornerstone of conservation and it is allowed and encouraged under CITES Convention (international law) whereby Solomon Island is a signatory and also in the Environment and Conservation Act (local law) who is the management authority.
“Under CITES (international law) dolphins are categories under appendix 2 which means that it is NOT ENDANGERED and can be traded but national governments have to impose a legal quota. This is what activists don’t want to hear or talk about.”
Dr Anita blamed activist for the mess-up and ignorance of fisheries and police officers on the laws of the country.
“Police and fisheries raided the facility with no state warrant at all.
“This is not a cognizable crime happening in the eyes of the police that you have no time to obtain a warrant.
“You should have called us for a table discussion.
“We have been there for six years. Also as we know from the police Act of 2013 that only for customs and immigration that a warrant is not required.
“These officers should be suspended or better off terminated.”
Dr Anita left a hint that despite all the mess, he extends an olive branch to the government that an amicable solution can be reached outside the judicial system.
“We are ready and we would welcome any dialogue and discussion with the government on this issue.”