Fisheries vessels out soon

2013-03-20 21:52

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Cape town - The state's research and patrol vessels will be out at sea by the end of April, a senior fisheries department official said on Wednesday.

Deputy director-general Greta Apelgren-Narkedien said Cape Town-based Damen Shipyards had been contracted to repair the vessels, which had been docked at Simon's Town for almost a year.

Another contract was being negotiated with a yet unnamed company to staff and operate the vessels, Apelgren-Narkedien told reporters in Cape Town.

Last year, fisheries was forced to hand over the management of the vessels to the Navy, which had been unable to staff, maintain or operate the vessels.

This was done after Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson withdrew an R800m tender awarded to the Sekunjalo Consortium to operate and maintain the research and patrol vessels.

The move followed allegations of corruption related to the deal.

The fisheries department will take over control of the vessels when the arrangement with the Navy ends at the end of this month.

A six-month contract was signed with Damen Shipyards as an "emergency measure" to start repair work on the more than three decades old Africana -  the country's big research vessel, as well as the Sarah Baartman - the high seas patrol vessel.

Apelgren-Narkedien said they were initially under pressure to get the Africana up and running by March for the pelagic fishing survey.

Scientists had since informed her the survey could be done in May.

Stop gap measure

"We said to Damen can you at least get the Afrikana, which is our main research vessel, never mind she's old, out to sea by the end of April. They said they can definitely do that," said Apelgren-Narkedien.

The Sarah Baartman would also be ready to sail by then.

Damen would complete repair work on the three smaller vessels.

Eighty percent of the repair work on the Ruth First, the Lillian Ngoyi and the Victoria Mxenge had already been done by another company.

"They [Damen] say they can have that [smaller vessels] ready in two to three weeks."

The department said the contracts would only last six months and was a stop gap measure, while the department was preparing to put out to tender a five-year contract for the maintenance and operations of the vessels.

A specialist would start work on 1 April to assist with the tender process.

"During the previous tender process there was a concern raised that the department had not engaged with specialists," said Apelgren-Narkedien.

She insisted the department was on track with all major research, a message conveyed to fishing company bosses who met Joemat-Pettersson on Wednesday morning.

Hake fiasco

The fishing company bosses described the meeting as a watershed moment.

It was the first time the group had sat around one table discussing problems facing the industry.

This included last year's hake certification fiasco, as well as the fisheries research and patrol vessels which remained docked at Simon's Town.

Joemat-Pettersson assured the company CEOs that processes were under way to address problems in the hake industry.

"We are certain the MSC [Marine Stewardship Council] hake certification will not be lost," she said.

Last year, the hake industry came close to losing its MSC certification, which meant fish caught in South African waters could not be sold under the MSC logo. This would have threatened South Africa's exports to Europe.

Criteria for MSC certification included a hake biomass survey, which was delayed as fisheries research vessels were not seaworthy. The department eventually chartered a privately owned fishing trawler so the department's scientists could do the survey.

Joemat-Pettersson told CEOs she was working hard to improve access for the industry to alternative markets.

The minister was set to sign an important agreement during next week's summit of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries.

"During the summit the department will be signing a trade agreement with the Russian government, to export South African fish stocks to the Russian market."

Read more on:    tina joemat-pettersson  |  marine life

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