The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s (DEAT) Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) Branch says its environmental protection fleet (EPF) has made a discernable impact on poaching along the South African coast.
EPF operations director Keith Govender says R430 million investment in offshore as well as inshore patrol vessels are paying off.
Govender is responsible for the deployment of the R150 million OPV Sarah Baartman and the three R280 million Lilian Ngoyi-class IPVs,
“The vessels are working 24/7,” he says. “As we speak there are vessels at sea and they are operating”.
The vessels, operated by Smit Amandla Marine on behalf of the DEAT, work in conjunction with the SA Air Force, SA Navy and the SA Police Service`s sea borderline control division.
Their effectiveness is enhanced by a vessel monitoring system that tracks fishing vessels out at sea “and we are able to monitor their movements as to where they are operating and for how long. We can check their speed, course and so on ad we use this as evidence when we pick up a transgression with any vessel.”
“We also collate data from this system and forward it to the ships at sea to make their patrols more effective when conducting at-sea inspections.
W”e have been actively working this year and have had quite an impact on visible policing. The more visible you are, the less transgressions you have. If I look at the statistics, there have been no major incidents with foreign vessels in our waters since the establishment of the EPF in 2004,” Govender says.
“Even local vessels are more complaint now: When we do the inspections it is clearly evident they are complying with the regulations. So these vessels are having a huge impact within our exclusive economic zone.”
Govender says the Baartman has visited SA`s Prince Edward Island dependency this year and was on stand by in May when the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke did a covert patrol off Marion and Prince Edward Island. Pirate fishermen have been active around the islands fishing for Patagonian tooth fish.
The Baartman is currently in maintenance and will soon conduct an extended Southern African Development Community patrol.
He says the IPVs are monitoring presumed hotspots. “We`ve stationed the Lilian Ngoyi in Port Elizabeth where she operates between Mossel Bay and the Kei River, with an emphasis on Bird Island and the Pondoland Reserve. “When the poachers see these vessels come, they run. When these vessels are in an area everything goes quiet,” he says of the deterrence value of the ships.
Govender says the Ruth First has been forward deployed to Durban to patrol the KwaZulu-Natal coast but has temporarily been withdrawn while the Victoria Mxenge undergoes dry dock maintenance.