DAFF encourages public to report suspicious fishing vessels

MAY 17, 2016

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has appealed to local residents on South Africa's eastern and southern coastline to be on the lookout and to report suspicious vessels at sea to the department after it emerged that foreign trawlers, mostly from China, were illegally entering South African waters, including in Marine Protected Areas, for fishing.

Many of the vessels allegedly plunder our coastline after switching off their Automated Identification Systems and it was a Facebook post on Salt Fishing SA by Mark Hicks, which first blew the whistle on Chinese vessels switching off their AIM monitoring beacons at night while off the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast.

Nine suspicious vessels were then spotted last week sailing in local waters without engaging the Department to request permission for innocent passage and without permits to enter South Africa’s water space.

"DAFF picked up a fleet of foreign vessels through our Vessel Monitoring System Centre, which were steaming within the South African Territorial Waters around Port Edward heading south, towards the Eastern Cape," the department's Bomikazi Molapo, said in a statement.

"The vessels were continually monitored as they were heading towards Bird Island (outside Port Elizabeth) as a convoy at a speed of 10 Knots. One of our fisheries protections vessel was activated to intercept and inspect the vessels."

However, at the time of interception, the sea weather conditions were harsh therefore it was not safe for the Inspectors to launch their Rubber Duck, so that they could board the foreign fishing vessels. A radio interrogation was conducted by the inspectors on board the Patrol Vessel and it was established that the fleet of vessels were sailing from China heading to the Congo.

"It was further noted that the vessels were new and purchased by the Angolan fishing company, therefore they were on their way to be delivered. At this stage the inspectors were satisfied with the information gathered and there was no reasonable suspicion not to allow them to proceed, however we had to keep monitoring them."

She said that upon further monitoring of these vessels, when they were around the Southern Cape, it was noted that they had split to form two groups heading to different directions.

"That raised suspicions, as a result the Fisheries Protection Vessel, which was patrolling within the Western Cape, was dispatched to intercept the fleet. The vessels were intercepted on Thursday 12 May 2016, at approximately 12H00 and were instructed to proceed to the nearest port in order to conduct a total rummage to the vessels, which would allow participation by the other law enforcement agencies," described Molapo.

"Initially the vessels cooperated; however, as they were along the way stopped, and informed the patrol vessel that they were communicating with the owner of the vessels. Eventually, all the vessels stopped cooperating at all and they switched off their Engines until sunset, and when they started their engines they did not communicate with the Inspectors, they started steaming towards the west at an increasing speed.

"The Inspectors on board the patrol vessel enquired through the radio as to what was going on, and no response was received, but rather the vessels continued to increase the speed and they steamed with 10 knots to different directions and switched off their Automated Identification Systems, and the navigational lights.

"That made it difficult for the Fisheries Protection vessels to detect which direction they were heading, but managed to chase and catch up with one of them and escorted it toward Cape Town and these arrived on Friday morning around 03h00 AM."

The current charges that the vessel will be facing are entering the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without the required permit and disobeying lawful instructions by a fishery control inspector. Further charges will be determined once the vessel has been fully inspected by all law enforcement agencies including possible charges relating to the vessels that have escaped.

If you spot suspicious vessels, please contact the department’s Vessel Monitoring Operations Room on 021 402 3077/ 3076.

Image: SUSPECT?? Facebook user, Nick Biggs, posted this vessel over the weekend and said; "This trawler just went straight into the Kei Mouth marine protected area today towing a "presumably" net. I could clearly see the towline behind the vessel. It was at about 11H15 in broad daylight. We were fishing at Chintsa bay..."