The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ fleet of state-owned maritime patrol vessels will be operational in October, as the South African Navy is still undergoing training on the vessels.
In reply to a parliamentary question posed by Pieter van Dalen of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries added that the Department is in the process of recruiting specialised personnel to support the Navy. “The process has begun. The first attempt did not attract suitable candidates due to the low salary packages offered.”
The South African Navy took over the management of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF’s) maritime patrol vessels on April 1 after the Department’s contract with Smit Amandla expired without a replacement company being found to manage the fleet.
The fleet includes the fisheries research vessels Africana, Algoa and Ellen Khuzwayo and the patrol vessels Sarah Baartman, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First.
The South African Navy is now responsible for managing the fleet, including crewing the vessels, providing technical management (maintenance, repair and life cycle management); provisioning; bunkering; accounting and ensuring the safety and seaworthiness of the ships. The Navy has agreed to carry out these duties for a period of twelve months.
The research vessel SAS Ellen Khuzwayo, patrol vessels SAS Sarah Baartman, SAS Ruth First and SAS Victoria Mxenge were inducted into the South African Navy during a commissioning ceremony on June 20. The SAS Africana was commissioned in April this year.
Africana sailed for the West Coast on June 14 on a three-week deployment doing acoustic surveys and mid-water trawls. Although nominally a 60 day tasking, the patrol was broken into two. After 30 days at sea, the Africana was to return for a week to replenish and refuel, then depart again for another 30 day patrol.
During an audit of the DAFF fleet, the Navy uncovered some technical issues – for example, the engines of Lilian Ngoyi were due for overhaul in terms of its scheduled lifecycle. Further problems with the Sarah Baartman were preventing the ship from going to sea pending the arrival of spares. In June it was reported that all the vessels, with the exception of Lilian Ngoyi, were expected to be ready for sea duty by the end of July.
In the interim, it was decided to resume patrols using warships – for instance, the frigate SAS Amatola was tasked to perform a patrol in May to meet the DAFF requirement. The frigate, with DAFF personnel on board, conducted a two week patrol off the south-east coast, checking for illegal fishing, examining ship catches and documentation.
In November 2011 DAFF Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced that an R800 million tender had been awarded to the politically-connected Sekunjalo Consortium to take over patrolling operations on South Africa’s coastlines following the end of Smit Amandla’s five-year contract. A subsidiary of Sekunjalo, Premier Fishing, has fishing rights on the South African coast, representing a potential conflict of interests. The contract has since been withdrawn.
Joemat-Pettersson called for an investigation into the awarding of R1 billion worth of contracts dating back to 2005 to man and maintain her department’s research and patrol vessels. Business Day reported Joemat-Pettersson’s legal advisor as saying that Smit Amandla should be investigated as contracts were allegedly awarded without a tender process. She would also like to know more about a company called Pentow Marine, which is a Dutch associate of Smit Amandla.
In 2000, the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism awarded Smit Pentow Marine a five-year ship and crew management contract, after a tender process. Although Smit Pentow Marine became Smit Amandla in 2005, a new tender was not issued in April that year but the original contract extended for another five years.
Joemat-Petterson, in reply to another parliamentary question posed by van Dalen, said that an investigation is being conducted into the procurement processes and systems in the fisheries branch. “The investigation covers the period 1999 – 2012. The investigation is being conducted by the SAPS [South African Police Service] and an internationally recognised auditing firm. The investigation by the SAPS and the auditors is being conducted in phases.
“Importantly the Hawks and Asset Forfeiture Unit are busy [conducting] an extremely sensitive and important investigation into corruption in the Fisheries branch in excess of R1 billion relating to the irregular, illegal extension of this contract with the private sector.” The minister stated that the investigation by the SAPS and the auditing firm began in and around May 2012.