Hawks raided the Smit Amadla Marine in connection with R800 million management contract.Photo by Leon Muller

Donwald Pressly

JUST days after the offices of Smit Amandla Marine were raided by the Hawks, it has emerged that the government is contemplating taking the responsibility for South Africa’s marine patrol vessels away from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

While it could not be confirmed by the fisheries department, it is understood that the responsibility for the patrol vessels will shortly be handed to the Department of Transport’s SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa).

Last week the offices of Smit Amandla Marine (SAM) in Cape Town were raided as part of the investigations into its contract to manage the fisheries department’s fleet of vessels, which ended last year.

SAM had held the contract to manage the patrol and research ships for 15 years but after it lost the contract to Sekunjalo, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson accused the company publicly of fronting.

The fleet includes the fisheries research vessels Africana, Algoa and Ellen Khuzwayo and the patrol vessels Sarah Baartman, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First.

SAM spokeswoman Clare Gomes said: “We have been requested to provide information in connection with an investigation relating to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries vessel management contract and are co-operating fully.”

In a series of controversial events Sekunjalo last year withdrew its preferred bidder status for the contract to manage the fleet after SAM took the department and Sekunjalo to court, questioning the process of adjudication of the bids.

Later, the department handed over the function to the navy, but this subsequently has been withdrawn. The department then ordered an investigation into SAM’s contract.

A senior shipping source said the plan was to place the patrol ships under a department which had responsibility for maritime safety and dealing with disasters, such as oil spills, at sea.

DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said he had been informed that the government was poised to switch the responsibility for the patrol ships to a department “which is not dogged in controversy”. He pointed out that the ships had been berthed at Simon’s Town for most of the past year.

It is not certain whether the research ships, which play a key role in determining the allowable catches, would remain with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Samsa executive Captain Nigel Campbell could not confirm the developments yesterday, but Samsa chief executive Tsietsi Mokhele told the transport committee recently that both its boats were non-operational as they were in dry dock at the Simon’s Town naval base.

These are two of the four patrol vessels that presently technically fall under the fisheries department.

DA transport spokesman Ian Ollis said the fact that the ships were holed up in dry dock meant Samsa was unable to fulfil its mandate of ensuring the safety of life and property at sea as these ships were the only ones that could combat marine pollution.

If an oil spill occurred, for example, he had been told that the clean-up would have to be handed to a private shipping firm, with the attendant delays.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that it had signed an agreement with Nautic Africa to manage the bunkering, crewing and other logistics to ensure the six vessels were put to sea quickly.

Damen Shipyards was also appointed to repair the fleet.