Posted by: Natalie Janse | April 17, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 17 April 2014

An image that would make anyone’s blood run cold, let alone those within the maritime industry, is the sight of the bow of a vessel protruding from the water as it slowly sinks beneath the waves.  That is the image that covered the front page of many newspapers around the world today as a ferry carrying 462 people sank off the coast of South Korea.

At this point there is little detail as to the cause of the accident.  The focus now is on the search and rescue operation to try to determine the fate of the almost 300 people, mostly high school students, that are still missing. There are at least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft involved in the rescue operation and navy divers are now searching for survivors inside the ship’s wreckage.

For the families of those on board there is nothing to do but wait.

In another search operation, the search for the missing Malaysian airliner continues in the Indian Ocean off Australia, and in a strange coincidence, the story of a vessel that went missing in that same ocean area in 1909 has made the news this week.

The story of the SAS Waratah shares quite a few similarities with the missing airliner.  Both went missing in the same body of water, both had a similar number of passengers on board and in both cases a large number of vessels, from various countries and at great expense, worked together to join the search.

The SAS Waratah went missing on July 17, 1909 with 211 people on board.  She was the most modern passenger ship of her time and was even more stringently built than the later Titanic.  She simply vanished and her story made headlines around the world. After 13 months the search for the missing vessel was called off and she was never recovered, neither was any flotsam.

There is a very real chance that, with the help of modern technology, one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries could simultaneously solve one of the greatest maritime mysteries.  Stranger things have happened.

Posted by: Natalie Janse | April 15, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 11 April 2014

The shark culling taking place in Australia has made the news again this week.  A new survey has revealed that despite the relatively high incidents of shark attacks along the Australian coast and the very aggressive culling campaign, Australians, on the whole, are not overly concerned about being attacked.

In a survey of 583 individuals, 87 percent felt that sharks should not be killed due to the possibility of an attack and 69 percent felt that public education would be a far better approach to preventing attacks.

University of Sydney shark expert, Christopher Neff said:  “The assumption is that the public is afraid. That when shark bites happen that they react emotionally and that they are looking for an immediate response.  My data refutes that.”

A total of 45 sharks gave been killed thus far in the largest shark culling drive in the world in Western Australia.  The state government wants to extend the culling for another three years.

Surely if this drive was in response to the terror that Australians felt at visiting their own beaches, then this survey proves that this is not necessary. Australians are not afraid and are intelligent enough to realise the risks involved when interacting with our oceans.

Is this culling drive perhaps aimed at putting the minds of visitors to Australia’s beaches at peace and ensuring the continuation of a lucrative tourism trade?

Posted by: Natalie Janse | April 4, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 4 April 2014

Members of local fishing communities made headlines as they took to the streets in two separate protests this week. The first of these was staged outside the Western Cape High Court in response to allegations that a community from Buffeljachtsbaai is being forcibly removed by the Overstrand Municipality.

The second took place in Hout Bay, where protestors blocked the entrance to the harbour and called for the renewal of their fishing rights, as well as transformation within the fishing industry.

Protest leader, Emmanuel Arendse was quoted as saying, “We are living in poverty.  We want our fishing rights back.  Our people need food on their tables.  We cannot live like this.  Minister (Tina Joemat-Pettersson) must get out of office.”

Are we not all secretly calling for change within the fishing industry?  Perhaps the urgency is just felt that much more keenly by communities who rely on the industry for every meal that is or is not on their table.

Also making news this week was the announcement by Oceana that it would be paying out R289 million to the beneficiaries of its empowerment trust. The company added that the cash payout was only a quarter of the value that the empowerment fund had generated and proved that they were worthy recipients of fishing rights.

Oceana chief executive, Francois Kuttel stated:  “What we have achieved is far more than what we would have been able to achieve if these rights were given to players with less resources and experience.”

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson has previously stated that empowerment and creating value for fishing communities was an important criteria for assessment during fishing rights allocation.

With their fishing rights up for assessment next year and again in 2020, it would seem that Oceana are aiming to tick all the right boxes.

Posted by: Natalie Janse | March 28, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 28 March 2014

In a week characterised by one disaster after the next: from missing airliners over the Indian Ocean, to mud slides in Washington state, I guess we should be grateful that there has been little or no maritime news as it would undoubtedly not have been good.

However, once again a story featuring the amazing creatures of our oceans has made the news this week.  Scientists in the US have tracked a group of Cuvier’s beaked whales as they dived to incredible depths off the Californian coast.  The tagged whales dived to depths of up to 2 992 metres, spending two hours and 17 minutes under-water before surfacing for air.

These dives represent both the longest and deepest dives ever recorded for any marine mammal.

Greg Schorr of Cascadia Reseach Collective in Olympia, Washington, says:  “Many creatures live at the depths these whales dive to.  However, there is a major difference between these whales and other creatures living deep in the ocean – the fundamental requirement to breathe air at the surface. Taking a breath at the surface and holding it while diving to pressures over 250 times that at the surface is an astounding feat.”

The whales were tracked using satellite-linked tags attached to the dorsal fins.

There is still much to be learned from the ocean that we so readily take for granted and abuse.

Other than that – there has been the usual to-and-fro between the minister of fisheries and her detractors in the press and via social media.





Posted by: Natalie Janse | March 20, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 20 March 2014

As if the threatened impeachment of our president this week was not enough to bring embarrassment to our nation, a member of the police Sea Border Unit, and his wife, have been arrested after 1,819 abalone were found at their home in Fisherhaven.

Along with the abalone, police also seized crayfish tails, a boat and a car.  The estimated value of the total find is around R1.3 million.

Is there no end to the corruption in this country?  In this case, the very person charged with protecting our oceans is responsible for poaching and stealing from it.  Where to from here?

In happier news, a whale that was entangled in the ropes of a whelk trap off False Bay was freed thanks to the joint efforts of the South African Whale Disentanglement Network and the National Sea Rescue Institute.  The young whale was trapped to such a degree that it was struggling to reach the surface of the water to breathe. After two of the five ropes that it had become entangled in were cut, it was able to free itself and witnesses later reported seeing it swimming strongly in the vicinity of Murdoch Valley.

Another successful operation assisting one of our sea creatures in distress.

Posted by: Colleen Jacka | March 16, 2014

Tina took two hours of my time

I  wasted almost two hours of my Sunday by responding to Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s invitation to a press briefing to discuss her response to the Public Protector’s report: Docked Vessels.

  • 25 minute drive to town
  • 10 minutes to park and get through parliament security
  • 10 minutes wait
  • 2 minute introduction to panel
  • 6 minutes to read press statement in English
  • 6 minutes to read press statement in Afrikaans
  • 7 minutes of largely inadequate question and answer time
  • 30 seconds of shutting books and watching the panel high tailing it out of the room
  • 10 minutes leaving parliament and returning to car
  • 25 minutes drive home

The Minister should note that should she just wish to issue a statement, that the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’ website would probably be an appropriate place to publish a press statement. Should she wish to ensure that the journalists saw this – she could even go as far as asking her communications team to send it to their list of relevant reporters.

But to call a press conference and essentially thwart any real engagement with the journalists present is a waste of her time; the panels’ time (consisting of legal counsel and senior communications officers from the Department) and our time too.

And so what was the ultimate crux of newsworthy information at the core of her statement?

“I will be asking the North Gauteng High Court to declare that the Report including the findings and recommendations, are reviewed, corrected and/or set aside.”

Any real questions from the floor were shut down and many left unanswered such as:

  • Has she discussed the report with the president?
  • Should the report, in the main, found to be accurate and should she be appointed in her current position after the elections, would she step down?
  • What of the lack of patrol capacity and state of illegal fishing currently continuing in our waters?

I look forward to reading what the reporters from the dailies write in tomorrow’s paper and will continue to follow the progress of this story as it now proceeds into our court system.


Posted by: Natalie Janse | March 14, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 14 March 2014

In a week where the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has dominated every news outlet,  there has been little attention paid to anything else.

However, two heart warming maritime stories did manage to make this weeks headlines.  A dolphin duo, trapped in shallow water in the Langebaan Lagoon, were rescued thanks to the joint efforts of local rescuers and bystanders.

The two dolphins were spotted by kite surfers and, with the assistance of Wildlife Rescue in Kraal Bay as well as the national Sea Rescue Institute Mykonos,  were transported to the open water near Jutton Island.

As both dolphins seemed to be in good health and swam away confidently, experts are satisfied that they will survive the ordeal.

The SPCA also made the news this week after rescuing a young seal pup spotted heading up a canal towards a local kelp processing plant.  Factory employees in the area spotted the pup and called the SPCA who transported it back to Seal Island in a dog crate.  It is suspected that the pup’s mother left the island to gather food and the unattended pup simply swam off.

SPCA inspectors Gareth Petterson and Megan Reid were confident that the seal would be reunited with its mother as each pup has a unique call, which its mother would instinctively recognise.

Posted by: Natalie Janse | March 7, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 7 March 2014

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is back in the news this week with staff of the fisheries branch handing a document to members of parliament complaining of: wasteful expenditure, fraud, nepotism and the scrapping of critical posts.

Urgent intervention has been called for.

To add to the Department’s woes a large group of people from local coastal towns descended on the city this week to hand over an official memorandum addressed to DAFF Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson and director-general Edith Vries, calling for the reinstatement of ousted fisheries chief Desmond Stevens.

Stevens was removed from his position after he was vocal about feeling slighted by the Minister’s comments that there seemed to be “legitimate concerns, either relating to poor administration of the fishing rights allocation process or questionable judgments by the elected officials.” She has called for an audit to investigate the matter.

Those calling for Stevens’ reinstatement described him as accessible and approachable with a “passion about transforming the fishing sector.”

We all know that it is impossible to please all of the people, all of the time, but it would seem that DAFF is unable to please any of the people, any of the time.

On a more somber note, the body Department of Environmental Affairs technician, Johannes Hoffman, who died on Gough Island last week, has been returned to Cape Town. Our condolences to his family and colleagues.

The penguins of the Stony Point Penguin Colony near Betty’s Bay are still being closely monitored this week, after 10 000 litres of diesel was spilled when a fishing trawler ran aground in the area.

About 4,000 penguins and 400 nests of various seabirds were exposed to the spilled diesel and the area was temporarily closed as authorities examined the birds for diesel contamination.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) principal said that fortunately the spilled diesel would eventually evaporate and would not remain an environmental threat forever. That is good news, but does not help those birds already contaminated.

Posted by: Natalie Janse | February 28, 2014

Weekly Press Review – 28 February 2014

Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson finally made the announcement this week that fishermen who lost their traditional linefish rights at the end of 2013 will be allowed to continue fishing until the end of April 2014.

The Minister said,”There do seem to be legitimate concerns either relating to poor administration of the applications or questionable judgements by the delegated officers.  I do want to deal with these questions of propriety before I can consider any appeals that may be lodged.”

I think that most people would agree that firstly, this was a very mild summing up of the problems that have plagued the fishing rights allocation process and also that it seems far too little, too late for those fishermen who are struggling to maintain their livelihoods.

We will see what the minster comes back with after “”dealing with” these questions and whether the process shall then continue as is or, as many are calling for, be completely re-examined.  Perhaps a fresh start is what is called for.   Certainly many lessons can be learnt from the errors of the last 12 months alone.

After listening to a variety of radio reports about a grounded vessel yesterday that all seemed to get the news incorrect; it was reported in the press that a Hout Bay-based crayfish boat ran aground near Betty’s Bay resulting in the death of one man.

Unfortunately the vessel, Connect, ran aground in a Marine Protected Area and the resulting  10,000 litre diesel spill is endangering the nearly 4,000 penguins and other seabirds and animals in the area.

Justin Lawrence, spokesman for Cape Nature said, “What makes the situation dangerous is the fact that the diesel is not visible, therefore, we cannot determine how far it has spread.  We are trying to rescue as many penguins and seabirds as we can.“

The vessel is also believed to be carrying 80 litres of engine oil.

Posted by: Natalie Janse | February 21, 2014

Weekly Press Review -21 February 2014

The name Arnold Bengis has made its way back into the South African press this week as the former Hout Bay fishing magnate is suing the South Africa government for $11 million (R121m) for the part that they played in assisting the United States courts to jail him for smuggling in 2003, as well as for having to pay $22.5 million restitution to the government.

In 2003 Bengis, his son David and his former business partner, Jeffrey Noll, were arrested in the US on charges of conspiracy to smuggle South African lobster and Patagonian toothfish into the US.  In 2004, all three were sentenced to jail time and have since served their time.  Now living in the United Kingdom, all three accused have brought an application against the South African government, three cabinet minsters, the former legal adviser of fisheries and members of the former Scorpions, saying that the assistance that the US criminal prosecution received from these parties was unconstitutional and unlawful.  They are claiming $11 351 703 in damages.

I am no legal expert, but these men were caught, tried, found guilty and convicted of their crime.  They have served their time and this certainly feels like an interesting stretch to essentially challenge this ruling on these grounds.  We shall wait and see where this case goes.

Robben Island has also made the news this week as the issue of the unreliable ferry system to and from the island is finally being addressed.  The Robben Island Museum has invited tenders for two new ferries  with a capacityof 150 to 180 passengers.  The museum’s chief executive, Sibongiseni Mkhize said, “We have had problems with our operations in December and the council took a decision to look to the market and procure new vessels.  We realised that our current operational model is not working.”

A tender opportunity of this magnitude will certainly be of interest to the local shipbuilding community.

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