South Africa’s proposed marine protected areas need proper patrolling

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Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s plans to add 22 marine protected areas (MPAs) and bring South Africa’s ocean protection in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to over five percent is “wonderful but irrelevant” at present.

She this week published draft notices and regulations in the Government Gazette to declare a network of 22 new MPAs identified as part of the maritime part of Operation Phakisa, a presidential project to fast track the development of the economy.

Molewa sees the new MPAs as protecting offshore ecosystems and species raging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a major expansion of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Proclaiming these areas protected is wonderful but irrelevant without the ability to patrol them,” was how defence and military analyst Helmoed Heitman reacted.
“‘Patrol’ implies a real ability to enforce laws and regulations. It does not help if you cannot force an errant vessel to stop and be boarded,” he said, calling to mind the unarmed Australian patrol vessel that twice chased a trawler all the way to South African waters, unable to force an arrest.

On the positive side, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) peace operations and peacebuilding researcher Timothy Walker said Molewa’s announcement was “encouraging”.
“President Zuma introduced Operation Phakisa in his State of the Nation address last year and hopefully the momentum and interest in maritime and ocean affairs will continue this year and beyond. Ocean protection is recognised at the highest levels of national, regional and international governance. The United Nations made sustainable usage of ocean resources as the fourteenth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The African Union’s Agenda 2063 also prioritises the creation of blue or ocean economies in the future. This will not occur if there is nothing left to protect.”

Walker maintains protection of the new – and existing – MPAs will be crucial.

Heitman agrees and goes further to say protection of large areas, in some cases quite far offshore and in rough seas, makes a clear requirement equipment-wise.

This includes radar surveillance of areas closest inshore with fast response craft to deal with infringements and maritime surveillance aircraft with the range and endurance to cover these areas. UAVs would allow for closer to shore areas and patrol vessels to be able to respond to an infraction quickly enough to force an arrest.
“For areas close to shore and ports a fast patrol craft might do the job in reasonable weather. For those further out, a larger vessel with the seakeeping to give it a speed edge will be needed,” he said.

Also a necessity, according to Heitman, is a central command facility.
“This must receive all surveillance data, know where all relevant vessels, craft and aircraft (SA Navy; Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; SA Air Force and SA Police Service) are and be able to task them, preferably directly or through an established hot line to the relevant service.”

He sees fleet composition being dependent on the areas to be patrolled.
“The SA Navy needs its four frigates and between eight and 12 offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to give between six and nine vessels operational at any one time to patrol South African waters and the Mozambique Channel, a key oil route and potentially also a vulnerable one, effectively. Add the six planned IPVs (inshore patrol vessels), although I would prefer eight to 10 smaller vessels to give better coverage and be better suited to training, and they could cover most areas pretty well.
“And there is no reason why they should not do so,” he said explaining in the past SA Navy officers were ex officio fisheries inspectors.
“Patrols of this nature are ideal to keep ships at sea with a purpose while training crews.
“The additional requirement then comes down to small, fast craft deployed in every fishing harbour along the coast, which could fall to the SAN Reserve, the SAP or to DAFF. Given DAFF’s track record all the way back to when the fisheries vessels were run by Sea Fisheries, I would argue for the task to fall to the SAN and the SAP, with officers trained and certificated as fisheries inspectors.
“The air side should fall entirely to the SAAF and the initial requirement created by these new protected areas could be met with a simple King Air or similar type of aircraft, with six probably the bare bones smallest number. Further out, for example at the Agulhas Bank, one would probably need something a bit bigger, in the C-295M class, although we would do better to give that task to the same aircraft required for the long-range search and rescue (SASAR) and island patrols task,” he said.



Walker maintains protection of MPAs has been criticised in countries including the United Kingdom where they “seldom” receive adequate protection.
“This is a golden chance to prove MPAs really work.
“South Africa is poised to improve its naval and/or coastguard capabilities and, combined with a strong and increasing interest in the seas and oceans, we are in a good position to give lessons and examples to the world.”