Donwald Pressly

The department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has signed a six-month “emergency” agreement with Damen Shipyards Cape Town for the immediate repair of two ships – the Africana and the Sarah Baartman – critical to carry out the department’s work in determining total allowable catches and patrolling South Africa’s waters.

Deputy director-general Greta Apelgren-Narkedien reported that Damen “will be responsible for readying the fleet of vessels and ensuring all vessels are seaworthy and reclassified”.

The marine patrol and research function has been an issue of controversy for 18 months, since Smit Amandla Marine lost the contract to manage the ships and Sekunjalo was named the preferred bidder. Later Sekunjalo was dropped after Smit Amandla Marine questioned the adjudication process in the selection of the preferred bidder.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Petersson then signed an agreement with the navy to manage the patrol and research function, but this agreement was not renewed when it ended last month after the department realised that adequate maintenance had not been carried out on the vessels.

Pressed at a press briefing yesterday on what damage had been done to the vessels, Gary Atkins of Damen said the vessels “have not been damaged as such. They have just not been maintained over the last few months… they have gone out of class and subsequently need to brought back into class before they can get back to sea again.”

“‘Class’ means they are certified by an insuring company, Lloyd’s. It is like a roadworthy for a motorcar. That is a certificate that needs to be issued on an annual basis.” He confirmed that the ships’ seaworthiness had, effectively, lapsed.

Damen would carry out maintenance on all six vessels in the department’s fleet, including two research vessels and four fisheries patrol vessels. But the “immediate” focus would fall on the oldest ship, the Africana research vessel, and the Sarah Baartman, one of the patrol vessels, Apelgren-Narkedien reported.

The department explained that the contract with Damen was awarded in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and was also carried out to the letter of a National Treasury practice note.

Carol Moses, the fisheries department spokeswoman, said the department was “100 percent happy… we have done it in accordance with the PFMA”.

She explained that emergency procurement allowed that quotes could be extracted from industry players but the emergency work did not have to go through the normal tender process.

Apelgren-Narkedien said the tender process for the long-term management of the fleet was under way and was expected to be concluded in July.

This five-year contract is worth about R800 million.

Moses said the agreement with Damen would cost the department about R5m but this could go up or down a little after Damen had carried out its assessment of the vessels.