Cape Town – It took nearly four years, but all six fisheries department vessels are back at sea, patrolling and researching.
“All vessels are in class and, following the RS Africana’s recommissioning in May 2016, are all operational,” Palesa Mokomele, director of communication service in the fisheries branch of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), told News24.
The research vessel Ellen Khuzwayo has been back in action since January 2014 and the Africana was recommissioned in May 2016 after a four year lay-up, during which it went through a major refit.
The Africana recently returned from a 40-day survey of anchovy and sardine stocks. The ship, commissioned in 1982, has almost reached its 40 000th scientific station milestone.
The four patrol vessels: the Sarah Baartman, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First were all fixed around this time last year and there has been continuous unbroken deployment of the patrol vessels in the last year, DAFF said.
The smaller vessels have recorded a couple of successes, including the apprehension earlier this year of Chinese vessels which were in South African waters illegally. The Sarah Baartman has conducted patrols in South Africa’s largest marine protected area around the Prince Edward Islands.
The repairs that were made from April 1, 2012 – when the vessels were handed over to the private sector by the Navy – until October 31, 2014, when they were handed over to the South African Maritime Safety Authority, cost the taxpayer R96.3m.
DAFF said it was happy that the fleet was finally fully operational and was being properly maintained by the South African Maritime Safety Authority.
The South African coastline was left unprotected for months at a time and stock surveys were done by the private sector, while the vessels were in disrepair or out of class due to damage and neglect suffered while politicians squabbled over the management and maintenance tender.