By Kim Helfrich
Since last month the guardians of South Africa’s maritime resources have seized 10 foreign fishing vessels and confiscated at least 160 tons of illegally caught fish.
The assets responsible for this work are the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) patrol vessels, three of which are back at work under the management of Nautic Africa.
The six-strong DAFF fleet was handed to the SA Navy at the beginning of last year following a memorandum of understanding entered into by DAFF Minister Tina Joematt-Pettersson and then-Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.
It gave the Navy maintenance, repair and life cycle management as well as provisioning, bunkering, operation, accounting, safety and seaworthiness of the vessels. When the MOU expired in March this year the vessels and their operations were moved back to DAFF.
While under Navy control the vessels were extensively refurbished owing to the poor condition they were in when delivered to Simon’s Town. At least two of the vessels went to sea with Navy crews aboard to perform fisheries inspection and patrol duties with other naval assets used to bolster protection of maritime resources while the majority of the DAFF fleet remained unseaworthy.
In April Nautic South Africa entered into a service level agreement with DAFF. This included bunkering, crewing and other logistics to ensure the vessels are at sea as speedily as possible to perform fisheries management and inspection duties.
The DAFF Parliamentary Portfolio Committee this week heard the majority of the 160 tons of confiscated fish was from vessels which had illegally changed their names – “a common practice when illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is taking place”.
This according to committee chairman Lulu Johnson was a call for more investment and resources in maritime anti-poaching interventions to protect South Africa’s shores and preserve marine resources.
He also called for tougher penalties for those arrested and involved in marine poaching.
“The involvement of foreign fishers in illegal activities is tantamount to acts of terrorism and mercenary against South Africa.”
The DAFF fleet comprises the fisheries protection vessels Sarah Baartman, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First and the fisheries research vessels FRS Africana and FRS Ellen Khuzwayo.