DAFF research vessels ready to sail next month


Out of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ fleet of vessels, only the SAS Africana is currently available to patrol South Africa’s waters. However, three of the patrol vessels are fully manned and are getting ready for deployment next month.

According to the South African Navy, which took over management of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) fleet in April, the SAS Victoria Mxenge is conducting sea trials in False Bay while the SAS Lillian Ngoyi is getting her engines fixed before deployment. The research vessel SAS Ellen Khuzwayo is awaiting the DAFF to appoint a fishing crew before she is deployed.

The Navy said that bridging training courses are being conducted in order to familiarize sailors with the specialized equipment on board the vessels. By the end of August, the required safety audits, surveys as well as repair of the vessels should be completed and patrols can commence early in September.

The other DAFF vessels inducted into the Navy are the SAS Algoa, SAS Sarah Baartmann and SAS Ruth First. 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 19. The SAS Africana was commissioned in April this year and sailed for the West Coast on June 14 on a three-week deployment doing acoustic surveys and mid-water trawls.

Whilst the Navy carried out a safety audit of the DAFF vessels, it was decided to resume patrols using military vessels. In May and June, Navy vessels with DAFF fisheries inspectors on board, conducted three patrols totalling 304 hours at sea. One of the patrols resulted in the arrest of a fishing vessel that was not in possession of the required permits and a fine was issued. In addition, the Navy said that the SAS Africana was deployed with a contingent of fishing crew and scientists from DAFF in order to conduct important fish specie surveys. The first survey resulted in approximately 673 hours at sea with additional specie survey deployments imminent.

The South African Navy took over the management of the 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 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.

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. 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.

The Competition Commission is currently investigating the R800 million tender. According to non-profit organisation Corruption Watch, Sekunjalo submitted four separate bids under different company names. Meanwhile, the Black Business Chamber recently released a statement charging Smit Amandla of ‘illegally receiving the contract and overcharging government by R200 million over the last 12 years’.

In addition, Joemat-Petterson has 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.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party’s Pieter van Dalen, Spokesperson on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that it has come to the DA’s attention that DAFF Deputy Director-General Sue Middleton – suspended in May “for no apparent reason other than trying to get South Africa’s marine research vessels running again” – returned to work in June without any action having been taken against her. “The Minister then claimed that she had been called before a disciplinary hearing, found guilty of financial mismanagement and given a final warning letter. But Middleton has publically stated that no such hearing has been held and this is the first she’s heard of the charges and supposed letter. The DA will continue to call the Minister’s blatant bluffs.”

Van Dalen said that the Minister has alleged for some time now that the DAFF fleet tender was illegally extended and that she has documentary ‘proof’ that Smit Amandla were guilty of fronting, overcharging and corruption. However, her advisor Duncan Hindle said that the Minister ‘does not have any documents on Pentow Marine’.