Fishing trawler raided

2014-11-19 00:00

AN Australian fishing trawler weighed down by a payload of protected fish species worth nearly R20 million was the scene of a weekend raid by Durban police.

The Southern Champion carried with it tons of protected fish that had been caught and processed, as well as nets without obtaining required permits.

An “administrative oversight” saw the vessel boarded by police after it entered the Durban waters — and it was then guided into port with the captain detained.

The transnational fishing vessel was held for three days after it was deemed to have entered South African waters illegally.

KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the vessel entered the exclusive economic zone before the permits were granted while in possession of their catch of protected species. The vessel was searched to assess the quantity and then taken into port.

“Although entering our EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] without the necessary permits issued is an administrative offence, it must be seen in the wider picture. Some vessels use the excuse of administrative difficulties and late permit applications as a cover to evade declaring the quantities of fish on board to authorities. This is why a hard stance on all foreign fishing vessel permits is taken,” he said.

Sources close to the operation said “administrative” blunders were often used as a guise to offload lucrative cargo and return to fishing grounds to refill their quotas.

It is understood the vessel and captain were released yesterday while the investigations continued. The boarding party also allegedly descended on the vessel on Saturday and the ship’s agent had applied to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for permits, which had not yet been granted.

Mntambo said the investigation would now focus in the agent.

“Following representations made by the captain to the prosecutor, it was decided the investigations will focus on the ship’s agent so the captain was released,” he said.

“This is common practise. Prosecutions against foreign fishing vessels are common, more so in Cape Town which is fishing harbour. The master of the vessel will normally be held ultimately liable for any contraventions involving the vessel unless otherwise proven.”

Mntambo said his body had taken a hard line. “In this case, the value of the fish on board is estimated at R20 million. We would be neglecting our duties and responsibilities if we did not take this seriously, regardless of where the fish was caught …”

Efforts to contact the owner of Southern Champion, Austral Fisheries, were unsuccessful.

According to their website, the vessel is an 87-metre factory stern trawler.

“The Southern Champion is capable of staying at sea for around 100 days and can carry 35 crew. In the sub-Antarctic, this vessel can process around 40 tonnes of product per day and in the warmer temperatures of the southern Indian Ocean, the trawler is limited to 25 tonnes,” the site reads.

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

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