South African fishing giant Oceana has fired Chief Financial Officer Hajra Karrim with immediate effect, alleging gross misconduct.

Meanwhile, Neville Brink, who was appointed interim CEO in February following the sudden resignation of Imraan Soomra, was confirmed as the new CEO of the company as of June 2.

Karrim was placed on a "precautionary" suspension earlier in February after Oceana delayed publication of its annual results on several occasions.

The following week, the group’s CEO, Imraan Soomra, abruptly resigned.

The departure of Soomra and the suspension of CFO Karrim followed several delays in Oceana’s latest financial results after “queries” raised by a whistleblower prompted the company to undertake an independent investigation.

The questions predominantly related to "the accounting treatment of matters pertaining to a United States subsidiary” -- namely the group’s 25 percent shareholding in Westbank Fishing -- which is held by Daybrook Fisheries Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oceana.

In an update to shareholders on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on June 3, Oceana said the contract of employment between the company and Karrim has been terminated with immediate effect.

"Ms Karrim’s departure results from the completion of a disciplinary procedure that resulted in her summary dismissal based on findings of gross misconduct," it said.

Former Irvin and Johnson (I&J) executive Ralph Buddle was appointed as interim CFO on Feb. 23, and will continue in the role while the company finds a replacement for Karrim, said Oceana.

Karrim took over as CFO of the group in November 2020.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. (PwC) also resigned as the group’s auditors on May 27, due to what the board determined was a "strained relationship," the company said.

First half earnings plummet

The group said it experienced a difficult first half with revenue declining by 11 percent to just under ZAR 3.2 billion (€193 million/$207.1 million) in the period through March 2022.

This was largely due to lower inventory levels carried forward from last year as a result of COVID-19 supply chain disruption, civil unrest in KwaZulu Natal that impacted South Africa canned fish sales volumes, and Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, which impacted fishmeal and fish oil production at the Daybrook operations in the United States.

Performance was further impacted by higher fuel and freight costs, lower landings due to La Niña weather conditions, scheduled vessel maintenance in Namibia, and lower cold storage occupancy levels due to the global supply chain impact on import activity, said Oceana.

Group operating profit before other operating items decreased by 37 percent to ZAR 353 million (€21.5 million/$23 million).

After the events that led to the delay in publishing the group’s 2021 audited financial results, the business has re-focused under the new leadership, with the immediate objective to deliver a strong second half operating performance, said Oceana.