The deal only came to light after residents were told by officials in the Whale Bay area, where the harbor is planned, that there was a hold on any land exchanges because of a Chinese deal, says Jane Aspden Gbandewa, who runs an an eco-tourism business in the area. The rumor mill got busy. The Chinese were allegedly funding the sort of fish meal factory that has proliferated along the West African coast recently -- businesses that are devastating to the local environment, gobbling up vast quantities of fish and spewing out toxic, odorous waste. Beijing and Freetown were forced to deny the rumors but acknowledged a deal had been made -- even if no details were forthcoming.
On Tuesday, Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio said the project was part of Beijing's "international Belt and Road Initiative" and would support the local fisheries sector. All "environmental due diligence will be done," he added.