Cape Town 23-10-12 The research vessel Africana leaves Simonstown Dockyard Picture Brenton Geach

Cape Town - The fisheries department has told the SA Navy that it is taking back control of all the ships in its research and protection fleet.

It is asking the Treasury for emergency funding and is calling on the manufacturers of these vessels to do urgent repair work so that they can go back to sea as soon as possible. It wants the two biggest vessels - the RS Africana and the Sarah Baartman - to be ready by the end of next month.

South Africa’s off-shore fisheries and its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, including the Prince Edward Island group, are not being patrolled, and the lucrative hake industry is in danger of losing its international accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council if it is shown that poaching is happening here.

The department, which acknowledged in Parliament on Tuesday that there was a “crisis” situation with the vessels, will now split the five-year, R835million fleet management contract into two components - research and protection - and will call for tenders.

But a proposal by DA spokesman Pieter van Dalen that a “special purpose vehicle” be created jointly by the fishing industry, the department and the SA Maritime Safety Authority to manage the fleet, will be considered.

This emerged during a briefing to the National Assembly’s agriculture, forestry anda fisheries portfolio committee by senior officials of the department, led by Greta Apelgren-Narkedien, deputy director-general of fisheries.

The officials conceded that the process to award new medium- and long-term fishing rights for various species was running several months behind schedule. They told the committee that problems with the research vessels had meant that some fisheries surveys had not been done, but that none of the surveys critical for information to set annual quotas, or total allowable catches, had been missed.

They also conceded that two directorates - fisheries research and development, and monitoring control and surveillance - would not meet all their targets. The fleet management contract was given to the navy for one year on an emergency basis, starting on April 1 last year, after fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson controversially alleged massive corruption in the previous contract and awarded the new contract to empowerment group Sekunjalo. But Sekunjalo voluntarily withdrew when it became clear that it would face litigation.

Johann Augustyn, chief director of fisheries research and development, told the committee that the research and patrol fleet was still in port in Simon’s Town because the navy had not operationalised the vessels.

Cope’s Bennet Bhanga, backed by the DA, demanded that Joemat-Pettersson be called to account.

“This is a national crisis… Your fleet management strategy has failed... It’s a disaster,” he said.

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Cape Argus