Hout Bay harbour was the scene of a “mini-war” this weekend when armed poachers fired on Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) wardens escorting them to shore and a crowd of more than 100 Hangberg residents hurled rocks and intimidated police officers who had been called as backup.
Innocent bystanders were forced to seek cover in a nearby restaurant while the crowd forced police and TMNP officials to retreat from the scene on Friday night.
It’s not clear whether the poachers at the centre of the fracas were from Hangberg, as poaching syndicates from other parts of Cape Town and other cities operate from Hout Bay.
These organised, armed syndicates have reportedly been poaching perlemoen in the area in recent months, making as much as R400 000 in a night.
An eyewitness who did not want to be named said that at 7.10pm on Friday three boats came racing into the harbour. Four alleged poachers were on board two boats and six TMNP officials were on the other one escorting the poachers into the harbour.
The eyewitness said the poachers quickly tied up their boats and she saw them handing two firearms to someone in a waiting Toyota, which raced off.
“The parks officials were trying to transfer a guy to their boat but the poachers hurled rocks and sticks at them.”
She said some were brandishing knives.
“The parks boat, with the transferred guy on board, retreated out to sea as they were outnumbered. The poachers tried to chase them, but rammed into the jetty at high speed, damaging their hull.”
Within minutes about 100 residents came down from Hangberg, many with dogs on leashes, shouting obscenities. More people arrived in about 10 vehicles, she said. Two police vans arrived at the harbour but appeared helpless in the face of the aggressive crowd.
Paul Sieben, head of TMNP’s marine division, confirmed the park’s wardens had been forced to withdraw after shots were fired.
It had been a TMNP operation and a Marine and Coastal Management official had also been on the boat, Sieben said.
The wardens had found a rubber duck off Kommetjie which had no papers, and they had escorted the suspected poachers on board back to Hout Bay harbour. On the way, the officials had attempted to apprehend suspected perlemoen poachers in another boat.
By the time they got into the harbour more than 100 people had arrived and the TMNP officials had been forced to go to another slipway. Police were called but were outnumbered.
Sieben said TMNP officials would continue their operations in the area but would take additional precautions.
Diving and rescue equipment worth R60 000 was stolen from the NSRI at Kommetjie over the weekend. It cannot operate until it is replaced.
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