Samsa urges ships to patrol SA waters

2013-07-23 10:25
South African coastal traffic is monitored from the Samsa Centre for Sea Watch and Response. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

South African coastal traffic is monitored from the Samsa Centre for Sea Watch and Response. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Samsa ship management

2013-07-23 10:25

Captain Karl Otto explains how the Centre for Sea Watch monitors ships in the South African maritime region in this YouTube video.WATCH

Cape Town - South Africa is in dire need of ships and aeroplanes to combat poaching in waters off the coast, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has said.

Samsa monitors the movement of vessels off the Southern African coast, but the government agency said that even if it spotted suspicious activity, it was not always able to physically respond.

"I suppose it depends on where and when - you might just be fortunate that you have assets close by, but I think all our assets are quite short in being able to respond," Karl Otto, outgoing executive head at the Centre for Sea Watch and Response at Samsa told News24.

He said that multiple challenges inhibited the centre's ability to send ships to intercept potential poachers in South African waters.

"Some [ships] might be multi-tasking: Being involved in surveying and you might be chasing vessels up the east coast and you might have a need on the west coast and they may not have a vessel available - either they're being repaired or there's no fuel - there's some issue."

Inspections

Otto said that while it may seem ideal to have an unlimited number of vessels to patrol the South African maritime region, the cost of such an exercise would not be practical for SA.

"It's nice to have thousands of assets but then it becomes a cost issue. In other words what you're trying to prevent is costing you more than you trying to protect."

According to Samsa's own data though, its ability to inspect ships that enter South African waters has declined.

The Samsa annual report shows that the number of inspections carried out from 2002 to 2007 (the latest available information on its website) declined from 2 447 to 703 for small vessels.

Hazardous vessel inspections declined from 1 808 to 903 over the same period.

This may be due to the lack of staff and vessels and the agency had been lobbying the government to expand its capacity.

In Samsa's Oversight document prepared for deputy minister of transport Sindisiwe Lydia Chikunga, Samsa highlights some of its key challenges in fulfilling its mandate.

Patrols

"Dire shortage of qualified and experienced ship surveyors" and "the maritime communications infrastructure and governance systems have reached the end of their useful life" the report lists as some of the challenges in managing South Africa's maritime region.

Otto conceded that sea and air patrols by the Navy and Air Force has declined significantly, but argued that better co-operation between all government agencies might make the fight against marine poachers more effective.

"I think maybe working a little bit smarter together with all the assets Navy, Water Wing, Police, DAFF, all government vessels and possibly even the local fishing guys will be very quick to report if they pick up [poaching].I think we need to harness that concept of 'Let us all work together to protect [the marine environment],'" he said.

He advised that if Air Force patrols could include checking for poachers and the inclusion of imaging equipment on regular training missions, a greater impact could be made in limiting poaching.

"The difficulty with them [Air Force] becomes when, and where the resources are. If it's the air force they might not fly if there's an illegal fisherman. It's more for search and rescue and safety of life, and I think this is where we need to sit down and say 'How best can we work together with the assets and the restrictions and limitations that we do have?'" said Otto.

The Centre for Sea Watch is tasked with being the first line of defence for South Africa's maritime area, said the Samsa CEO.

Satellite surveillance

"From the Centre for Sea Watch, this is really the totality of their effort: They are really the eyes and ears of the country and then report back to the authorities," said Commander Tsietsi Mokhele.

Otto said that it was urgent that more physical patrols augment the satellite surveillance of vessels around the South African coast, but that it is strategically to ensure that poachers do not get away with the destruction of the country's marine resources.

"The criminal element picks up your patterns easily so you have to be a little smarter than them to say 'Do something better,' but we still need more assets."


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