11 January 2005

South Africa ready to take on marine poachers

South Africa's ability to take on poachers in the Southern Ocean received a major boost yesterday when the country took delivery of its first deep-sea patrol vessel, the Sarah Baartman.

"We said we mean business and we are showing it," Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the handing-over ceremony on board the 83-metre vessel in Cape Town harbour.

The Sarah Baartman is to be the flagship of an eventual fleet of four patrol vessels commissioned by Van Schalkwyk's department.
The others, including the Lilian Ngoyi, taken into service last year, are designed for coastal waters only.

Yesterday's ceremony, which included a dance to the rhythm of a traditional Khoisan music bow by a group of young Griquas from the Knersvlakte, was also a tribute to the memory of Baartman, a Khoisan woman who was exhibited as a freak in 19th-century Europe.

"It was greed and ignorance that led to Sarah's exploitation," Van Schalkwyk said.

"The return of her mortal remains in 2002 helped to restore the dignity of our nation.

"This vessel will make a similar contribution as it will help us track down those whose greed is stripping our country of its valuable marine resources."

Cape Town poet Diana Ferrus read to the audience of VIPs the poem she wrote about Baartman and which played an important role in persuading the French government to allow Baartman's remains to be repatriated to South Africa.

Baartman's remains had been kept in a Paris museum.

"It is a sad, but I can honestly say, a joyous moment for me," said Ferrus, who travelled to the Netherlands last year to christen the vessel as it lay in the Damen shipyard at Flushing.

Van Schalkwyk said the Sarah Baartman was South Africa's first offshore environmental protection vessel.

"It will enable us to be much better equipped to protect our marine resources," he said.

"This will enable us to make good on our promise to build an enforcement fleet that will be the envy of other countries."

The $19 million that the vessel cost was "a lot of money", but it was a good investment, Van Schalkwyk said.

The vessel will also be able to deal with emergencies at sea. It has a landing pad and refuelling facilities for a helicopter, as well as a hospital. It is also equipped to combat oil pollution.

It can accommodate six six-metre containers and these may be loaded and off-loaded by its crane, so the Sarah Baartman will be useful in assisting with disaster relief, search and rescue, evacuations, firefighting and other emergency operations.

The vessel has a range of 7 500 sea miles and is able to stay at sea for 45 days. It is to carry 17 crew members, four cadets and eight fishery inspectors.

The captain of the Sarah Baartman is John Klopper, but the chief officer, Amanda Viljoen, is expected to take over this post in the next few months.

The head of the department's Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) section, Horst Kleinschmidt, said the existence of the vessel in itself would be a deterrent to poachers.

"We need to make it clear to people: don't start poaching," he said.

He said the MCM's first objective would be to increase its presence in the Southern Ocean, particularly around the Prince Edward Island group, as it was frequented by poachers targeting the lucrative and endangered Patagonian toothfish.

The Sarah Baartman would co-operate with the French, who were patrolling the Crozier islands, and the Australians, who were patrolling the Heard and Macdonald islands.

"We are now on par with our neighbours in capacity," Kleinschmidt said.

"They are really enthusiastic about our new-found ability."

The fisheries inspectors on board were armed with handguns and MCM would look at providing more firepower if it was warranted.

There had not been a poaching shootout yet in Southern Ocean waters, Kleinschmidt said.

The Sarah Baartman was also equipped with two "phenomenally powerful" water cannons with a range of more than 500 metres.

"She's ours now, she's fully equipped, she's ready and she's going to go out right away," Kleinschmidt said.


Post a Comment

<< Home