By Caryn Dolley

A new super-fast patrol vessel was launched in Cape Town harbour on Thursday to reinforce marine protection and help combat poaching.

The vessel, named after South African struggle heroine Florence Mkhize, boasts speeds of more than 60 knots and a range of 650km.

It is 14 metres long and can accommodate 12 people.

This makes it faster and smaller than the four other inshore boats launched in the past two years.

The other patrol vessels are the Sarah Baartman, Lillian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First.

Speaking at the launch, Environmental Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the "smaller, high speed vessel" would enable patrols to deal with poachers who had previously escaped them in faster boats.

"The vessel is one of it's kind and extremely fast, with twin SeaTek 820 KiloWatt engines, which are very powerful engines.

"There was a gap we identified in the vessels we currently have and this one fills it.

"This speed chase vessel is a great addition to our marine protection fleet," said Van Schalkwyk.

He said the R3,8-million Florence Mkhize was capable of "catching up" to the high speed rubber-ducks poachers used.

Van Schalkwyk said there had been no South Africans able to operate the vessel, so five skippers had completed a training programme on how to handle the boat at high speeds.

Their training included throttle responses when going over a wave at 60 knots, high speed manoeuvring of the vessel, and how to use the electrical equipment.

Van Schalkwyk also said the Overstrand municipality's poaching unit, the Marines, would be offered contracts by the department of environmental affairs and tourism within the next two weeks.

The legal contract between the municipality and the department, which helped it to "crack down" on poachers, expires at the end of this month.

The municipality had indicated it could no longer continue with the project because of a lack of funds.

Van Schalkwyk said the Marines would go through a screening process "so as to ensure all our members employed will be beyond reproach".

"We'll make sure the people working for us are not corrupt or working with poachers," he said, referring to allegations that officials on the patrol vessels were alerting poachers of their operational plans.

The screening process would include interviews and background checks.

Van Schalkwyk said the department was "determined to succeed" in its anti-poaching campaign.

Over the past three months, 101 arrests have been made and 2 170 rock lobster confiscated along the West Coast.

In the Overberg, 329 arrests have been made, and 60 126 perlemoen and 1 737 rock lobster confiscated.

The department's special investigation unit has made another 29 arrests and confiscated 10 035 perlemoen in these areas.