A multi-disciplinary task team consisting of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), SA Police Service and other law enforcement players last weekend carried out a combined operation in the Gansbaai area of the Western Cape that netted several suspects and confiscated abalone with an estimated export value of more than R5 million.
The SA Police Service (SAPS) said the operation took place on 29 November around Pearly Beach and Gansbaai and involved the SA Air Force, SAPS Sea Border Patrol Unit, SAPS Air Wing, SAPS Special Task Force, Anti-Gang Unit, Overberg SAPS, Overstrand Law Enforcement, Overstrand Traffic, Cape Nature and officials from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) with assistance from Bidvest Proteacoin. Air assets included a SAAF Oryx and a Police AS350 Squirrel helicopter.
The SAPS said the operation was part of a targeted approach, including investigations into the links between abalone poaching, gangsterism and organised crime.
During the operation over the weekend, poachers were targeted from the air, on water and on land. Two vessels, which were identified beforehand through investigations as being involved in poaching activities, as well as two vehicles (a Mazda double cab bakkie and Land Rover SUV) were confiscated.
The police also confiscated 5 122 units of abalone during operations executed in Eluxolweni and Buffeljagsbaai. Members found 576 units of shucked abalone during the operation.
Three suspects, aged 23, 28 and 41, were arrested on charges of diving in a restricted zone, the illegal possession of 535 units shucked abalone and possession of prohibited gear in Eluxolweni.
Another suspect aged 23 was arrested on charges of diving in a restricted zone and the possession of prohibited gear. He was arrested at Bloubaai, Gansbaai area.
A fifth suspect aged 27 was arrested for the possession of abalone (166 shucked abalone, 18 whole abalone) and defeating the ends of justice in Buffelsjagsbaai, Bredasdorp.
The suspects appeared in the Bredasdorp Magistrate’s Court on 1 December.
The suspects’ involvement in organized criminal activities will also be investigated as part of the larger investigation into abalone smuggling syndicates under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA).
“This operation is the first in a string of processes which form part of the investigation into abalone smuggling syndicates operating from the Overberg and more arrests are expected to be made in due course,” the SAPS said.
A number of suspects from the Overberg were also arrested during a similar operation over the weekend near Robben Island. Another suspect was apprehended by members of the Saldanha Sea Border Patrol unit after a high-speed chase on the ocean.