11 January 2005

Good officers wanted for new 'green team'

A rigorous screening process that included a lie detector test has weeded out eight of the 30 candidates shortlisted for posts in a new anti-poaching team being established on the southern Cape coast.

Two of the eight were rejected because of drug habits, and the others failed questions relating to links to poachers, gangs and criminal intent.

The team is the Marines - an acronym for "Management action for resources of inshore and nearshore environments" - who will be one of the key elements in the new anti-poaching initiative replacing Operation Neptune.

Operation Neptune had mixed success over the past five years in attempting to stop poaching along the southern Cape coast - particularly of perlemoen.

It will officially cease at the end of March. The police will supply crime prevention staff to keep Operation Neptune afloat until the replacement initiative, Operation Trident, starts in April.

Trident will be managed in terms of an agreement between the Overstrand Municipality, the Marine and Coastal Management directorate of the department of environmental affairs, and the police.

The new operation promises to offer more dedicated investigation of crimes, more visible policing - this is where the Marines come in - and research into environmental factors affecting perlemoen.

The Marines are employed by the municipality, which has local authority jurisdiction from Rooi Els to Pearly Beach.

But the new force of 46, backed by 20 more fisheries inspectors who will now number at least 70 in the Overberg region, will patrol the coast from Gordon's Bay to Rietfontein, near Cape Agulhas.

In terms of the new agreement, the police will assist the Marines, but only where major criminal activity on the land is involved - for example, with big gangs of poachers.

The Marines, who will have an annual budget of R15-million, will employ 40 "foot soldiers" on the ground, according to the municipality's head of nature conservation Craig Spencer.

There were more than 200 applications for the 30 posts offered, Spencer added.

They were all screened and a shortlist of 30 was compiled. These candidates were subjected to two further screenings: a standard interview and a lie-detector test.

Of the 30, eight had failed, including two who were shown to use drugs.

"We don't want anyone with a drug habit, particularly because of the close association between drugs and perlemoen poaching."

Most of those selected for the Marines so far have a background in law enforcement and anti-poaching work, Spencer added.

Because of the large number of perlemoen-poaching boats operating around Dyer Island, Marine and Coastal Management deployed its new marine patrol vessel, the 47m Lilian Ngoyi, to the area for a month.

Although it was sent last week on an inspection on the West Coast, it will be going back to Dyer Island next week.

This was confirmed by Marcel Kroese, the directorate's acting head of monitoring, control, surveillance, who said the vessel had had "a big deterrent effect".

Although the area around Dyer Island is particularly treacherous with many reefs and rocks, the Lilian Ngoyi was highly effective because of its state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, he said.

It was able to sit offshore, monitor activity, and deploy its own fast inflatable craft when needed.

"The number of reports we had about poaching vessels operating there illegally dropped from 16 in a week to just one a week.

"To deter the poachers is just as good as catching them."

Spencer agreed, pointing out that an eight-man Marines team operating in the Gansbaai district last month made nine arrests, seized 2 627 perlemoen, issued 16 spot fines, and prevented 486 divers - who were clearly about to poach perlemoen- from entering the water.


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