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South Africa and France to conduct cooperative patrols in the Southern Ocean

The French frigate Nivose.South African and France are ready to sign an intergovernmental agreement for cooperative patrols in the southern Indian Ocean, against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in each country’s EEZ.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the area extending 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from the coast. Within the EEZ, a coastal state has sovereign rights in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over the living and non-living resources of the sea and the seabed. South Africa's EEZ includes both that next to the African mainland and that around the Prince Edward Islands, totalling 1 535 538 square kilometres.

Of the monitoring and surveillance fleet operated by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Directorate: Fisheries Protection Vessels (FPV), only the Sarah Baartman is capable of patrolling to the more remote off-shore parts of South Africa’s EEZ and around the Prince Edward Islands and Marion Islands in the Southern Ocean. The other three patrol vessels (Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge) were built to only patrol up to the 200 nautical mile limit.

Due to various tender, operational and technical reasons, the DAFF vessels have not spent enough time at sea in recent years to effectively patrol South Africa’s EEZ, never mind the remote Prince Edward and Marion Islands.

The Department of Environmental Affairs polar research vessel SA Agulhas II visits Marion Island for relief voyages once per annum, but only calls in at Prince Edward Island once every four years, under very strict environmental regulations. No fishery or EEZ patrols are conducted during these voyages.

However, French naval vessels, based in Port-des-Galets, Reunion Island, regularly patrol the French EEZ in the southern Indian Ocean, north of the Antarctic in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF). These patrol vessels also frequently visit Cape Town during these patrols for resupply, rest and routine maintenance.

With South Africa and France sharing neighbouring EEZs in the Southern Ocean (Marion, Prince Edward and Crozet have contiguous maritime EEZ borders), the two countries share a common interest in protecting the valuable fisheries resources within it.

The proposed agreement, which has been finalised but is awaiting signature during a high-level ministerial visit to Europe later this year, will be similar to the Australia-France Cooperative Enforcement Agreement that was signed in 2011. That agreement allows joint Australian and French patrols to enforce each other's fishing laws in their respective EEZs and territorial seas in the Southern Ocean.

The cooperative enforcement allows for the exchange of personnel necessary to apply and enforce each country's laws. For French vessels to enforce South African fisheries laws in South African waters, a South African officer must be aboard and vice versa when South African vessels are in French waters. Measures include the boarding, inspection, hot pursuit, apprehension, seizure and investigation of fishing vessels that are believed to have breached fisheries laws.

When the French Navy offshore patrol vessel Albatros (P681) visited in Cape Town in June this year, having completed her final Indian Ocean patrol, French officials aboard the vessel told defenceWeb that the new agreement was aimed at sharing the burden of the maritime surveillance in these distant areas.

“The sovereignty on our EEZ cannot be enforced by each nation in isolation, and only the sharing of the devoted maritime (resources) is the solution to be more present in these outside territories and fight against illegal activities,” they said.

Commander Riaz Akhoune, Officer Commanding of Albatros, explained that there are only a few instances of illegal fishing around the islands of Kerguelen, Crozet and Amsterdam in the past year, whist there were many fishing boats outside of the EEZ.

“During the Toothfish Wars at the beginning of this century, Albatros couldn’t arrive in Kerguelen without finding a ship fishing illegally,” he continued.

Amplifying the importance of having a continuous patrol presence in the region, Akhoune says it was only through the good cooperation between the Navy and civilian maritime agencies and the justice department which imposed large fines that stopped the large scale illegal fishing.

“It has proved to be effective, in that there is no longer any sign of IUU fishing in the EEZs.”

Since the original French/Australian agreement was implemented, no illegal fishing vessel has been found in the respective EEZs. Scientists have also concluded that the fish population inside the respective EEZ was increasing.
 
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