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Abalone poachers are salvaging their futures by turning to commercial diving

06 November, 09:57 AM

Aletta Harrison, News24

Cape Town - They’ve been plying their skills illegally in the frigid waters off Hout Bay for years, but now several abalone poachers are taking the plunge into the lucrative (and legitimate) commercial diving industry.

Seven men from the Hangberg community are receiving training courtesy of local company Guerrini Marine Construction (GMC) and dive school Jack’s Dive Chest to the value of tens of thousands of rands, to empower them to make a legal living.

The profession presents a unique chance to use their existing skills and scuba experience to quit poaching and get a good income.

GMC owner, Adrian Guerrini, says once they’re qualified their first port of call will be to help remove sunken wrecks congesting parts of Hout Bay harbour.

The community of Hangberg enjoys a great view over
The community of Hangberg enjoys a great view over the harbour, but few opportunities for work in the area. Picture: Aletta Harrison, News24

The project, which will also see timber and metal salvaged and recycled, has been welcomed by Hangberg residents, who have long complained about the lack of economic opportunities for them in the area.

Guerrini, whose company was awarded the tender for the project under Operation Phakisa's Small Harbours Rescue initiative, says it is important to create jobs and opportunities for the people of Hout Bay.

“We wanted to make use of the local community and because Hout Bay is pretty political, when it comes to the fishing guys who used to be involved in the marine industry, we felt that it would be advantageous to the locals here if we made use of the local people for the work.”

Trainee diver Stephan Braaf says he is excited about the prospect of having a regular income and putting his risky poaching days behind him.

GMC employee Greg Louw, diving students Richard Gu
(From left to right) GMC employee Greg Louw, diving students Richard Guenantin, Navan Adonis, Dorian Williams, Alphonso Wichman, Stephan Braaf, instructor Roy Herbst, with students Marcelo Louw, Denton Davids. Picture: Aletta Harrison, News24

“With the abalone you can earn a lot… but you can actually lose it as well, because if they catch you you’re going to go to court… So for me a fixed income is going to be better for my family…” 

Braaf adds that he now looks forward to encountering the very same police officers he used to dodge, so he can proudly tell them about his new career.

“You can also show the guys that you want to become something better in life,” he says.

According to Braaf, the training will not only empower the trainee divers, but inspire their entire community to look beyond the established poaching practices.

“We are setting the example. Because we are representing Hout Bay. If we can do good work — proper jobs — and the people can depend on us, the next generation that comes in they will also do the same.

There are many opportunities — there’s diamond diving, there’s going overseas – working there offshore, things like that,” he adds.

A GMC employee dismantles a ship wreck that was re
A GMC employee dismantles a wreck that was salvaged from the harbour. Picture: Aletta Harrison, News24

Other Hangberg locals who are already busy dismantling the first of the salvaged vessels, are excited about the opportunities the harbour’s facelift may bring.

“It was a cemetery as we all know,” says Desmond Jacobs, as he looks out over the slipway.

Jacobs explains the reclalimed wood and steel from the wrecks will be reused in local projects.

“We were held back from many things, but hopefully the ball can get rolling now in Hout Bay. It will help the community with many jobs.

We are so happy with the project finally being up and running, as we’ve been waiting for many years for it to happen and it’s finally happened.”

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