A combined operation between the SA Police Service (SAPS), SA Revenue Service (Sars), the departments of home affairs (immigration) and agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) this past weekend resulted in nine people being arrested, their fishing vessel confiscated and multiple criminal charges laid in Cape Town.
“A case docket has been registered and will be handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority for further investigation,” Daff spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo said on Monday.
Molapo added that the crew had been confined to the ship under the control of the joint operation centre established to control the situation.
The Chinese-registered Lu Huang Yuan Yu 186 was one of nine allegedly illegally operating fishing ships spotted by the department around Durban, Port St Johns and Cape Recife over the weekend.
While due process is now under way, the action has opened a can of worms around the Chinese fishing industry, believed to be the largest in the world, versus the effectiveness of the South African government to look after its sovereignty.
However, Namibian Wayne Hart said on the Salt Fishing South Africa Facebook page “the large fleet of Chinese Tuna Seiners were highlighted as being illegal plunderers of the East Coast, where they were in fact new builds heading to West Africa where Tuna seining takes place. Not RSA. The mistake they made was not to report 24hrs to Daff before entering the EEZ.”
Deputy chairperson of the DA in Buffalo City David Viaene wrote on his website karmicsangoma.co.za that he expected President Jacob Zuma “to get a phone call from the Chinese ambassador and for the ANC to go to the Chinese consulate with cap in hand to beg their overlords for their forgiveness”.
“It is going to be interesting to see how this is explained away. How are they going to explain transponders being switched off in the marine-protected areas? How are they going to explain eyewitness observations of giant spotlights pointed towards the backs of the boats as they were moving?” said Viaene.
He noted there was no evidence the captured boat had had been fishing or that it had any fishing gear on board.
“I am not sure it is normal for a Chinese fishing vessel to not carry any fishing equipment or for all the other boats to scatter and run like they had something to hide,” Viaene said.
Hart said a typical longliner took six hours to shoot its lines and 11 hours to retrieve them.
“I find it extremely unlikely that it is illegal foreign longliners coming into shore at night and disappearing by daybreak, as has been mentioned in many posts. I would seriously look right at your own RSA fleet for these encounters,” said Hart.
A petition on change.org, “Stop foreign fishing vessels from pillaging South African fishing waters”, already has nearly 1 000 signatures calling for stricter policing of South African waters.
“A Chinese fleet performed similar evasive manoeuvres to avoid Argentine authorities on March 16 2016 … The only difference being that the Argentine authorities sank one of the ships,” the petition states.
“Another Chinese fleet is now in South African fishing waters. We need to preserve our resources for our people and future generations to enjoy. Why would they switch off their beacons and not stop when ordered to, or did they have something to hide?”
The last sentence is in reference to how the Chinese fleet managed to evade South African authorities which, according to Daff, went like this:
“When the fleet was around the southern Cape, it was noted that they split into 2 groups heading in different directions. That raised suspicion and the FPV Vessel was dispatched to intercept the fleet.
“The Vessels were intercepted 12 May and were instructed to proceed to the nearest port in order to conduct a total rummage to the Vessels which would allow participation by the other law enforcement agencies. Initially the vessels cooperated but stopped along the way and informed the Patrol Vessel that they were in communication with the Owner of the Vessels. Eventually the Vessels stopped cooperating at all and they switched off their engines until sunset.
“When they switched on their engines again they started steaming towards the west at an increasing speed without communicating with the patrol vessel.
“The inspectors on board the patrol vessels enquired through radio contact as to what was going on. There was no response but rather the vessels continued to increase speed heading into different directions. They also switched off their AIS and Navigational Lights. This made it difficult for the Patrol Vessel to detect which direction they were heading.”
On thespinoff.co.nz, Michael Field wrote, “Illegal fishing, much of it by China, is costing some of the world’s smallest and poorest nations hundreds of millions of dollars”.
“China’s deep-water fishing armada, the largest in the world, is plundering the South Pacific,” claimed Field.
“Just as they are wiping out Africa’s elephants to make ivory chess pieces and India’s tigers to fight off impotence, they are rapaciously taking as much tuna as they think they can get away with, including endangered species.”
Field said it was common knowledge that “China’s new and powerful boats could, within a decade, destroy the $3 billion (R47 billion)-a-year Pacific tuna industry,” and noted that since 2012 the Chinese Pacific fishing fleet had grown 528%”.
“Armed with 3 000 hooks on 100-kilometre lines, longliners target albacore and yellowfin. Silky and whitetip sharks are a favourite ‘by-catch’, their fins kept and the rest dumped,” said Field.