03 February 2005

Shark poaching tip-off leads to arrest of ship

An Indonesian fishing vessel and its skipper were arrested in Cape Town harbour yesterday on suspicion of fishing illegally for shark in South African waters.

The authorities became aware of the vessel, Fortune 1, after its fishing gear became entangled in the equipment of an offshore oil exploration ship.

The skipper, who may not be named, is in custody in the holding cells at the Table Bay police station where he will stay until his bail hearing.

The Fortune 1, a long-liner vessel, is not allowed to leave port while the authorities investigate the case.

Marcel Kroese of the Department of Environment's Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), said yesterday an offshore oil exploration ship had alerted them to the presence of the Fortune 1 in South African waters about a week ago.

"We give the oil exploration ship a printout of all the vessels that are fishing within a 50km radius of where the ship is working, so they can keep a lookout for them," Kroese said.

"The exploration ship uses sonar equipment, which looks like a long pipe with lots of sensors which give off sonic booms that penetrate the water and the sea floor to detect different geological densities.

"They found that this survey equipment had become fouled with fishing gear. They saw the Fortune 1 nearby, but saw that it was not on the list of vessels fishing legally which we had given them. So they contacted us," he said.

The vessel was spotted off Mossel Bay. Kroese alerted the new fisheries patrol vessel, the Lillian Ngoyi, which he dispatched to find the Fortune 1.

"There was extremely bad weather for two days, and the Lillian couldn't find her," he said.

Later they established that the Fortune 1 had left South Africa's exclusive economic zone, which stretches 200 nautical miles offshore.

When the vessel berthed in Cape Town harbour yesterday, MCM staff arrested her.

"There was no catch on board, only some bycatch. We have reason to suspect that she may have done a ship-to-ship transfer at sea. We're investigating that now," Kroese said.

The Fortune 1 did not have a permit to fish in SA waters this year. Last year, it had been given a permit to fish for shark in a joint venture with a local company. It had fished mainly for mako and blue shark, which are considered good eating.

The special environmental court in Hermanus has sentenced a man to six years in prison for possession and transportation of shucked perlemoen.

Half the sentence was suspended for five years.

Gert Johannes Vos, from Gansbaai, was not given the option of a fine due to the seriousness of his offence, a court official said.

On two occasions in 2002, Vos was found with a total of 6 000 shucked abalone in his vehicle.


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