Getting take-aways

Yesterday I picked up some maritime take-aways that did not involve fish and chips.

I accepted an invite to participate in a Maritime Security Roundtable hosted by the Institute for Security Studies Africa (ISS Africa) with a bit of trepidation based on my concern that I would not be able to add much value. Joining a group of varied maritime stakeholders, the discussion was interesting as well as diverse and highlighted several important issues that provided some important take-aways.

  • The marine and maritime space is far-reaching and complex in nature – making any discussion on governance and security equally diverse and complex.
  • Significant work is being done theoretically, academically and practically to improve South Africa’s and Africa’s ability to manage its own maritime domain – but much of this is not immediately visible or apparent.
  • This lack of visibility is, in part, due to the diverse range of stakeholders involved across government and industry – with the consequence of some duplication and gaps occurring.
  • While many consider Operation Phakisa a failed initiative, it did manage to provide deliverables in some areas. One such success is the creation of the Incident Management Organisation (IMOrg) within SAMSA.
  • An Ocean Economy Master Plan is scheduled to be completed by December this year – outlining aspects of the maritime economy that require attention and offer opportunity. Although the process is being driven by government, labour and industry, there is still a perception that it is being held behind closed doors by some.
  • There is a lack of willingness to coordinate data from the industry to help make over-arching decisions, with many government departments, NGOs and Universities all accumulating research without an understanding of what has already been undertaken in the space.
  • Coastal communities are often not part of the discussions for solutions and/or their specific challenges are not understood within the context of the historical and present dynamics.
  • Training within the maritime space needs to be offset against actual employment opportunities. Training for unemployment cannot be an option.
  • There appears to be a lack of review of policies to understand where interventions have worked and where they have not. In addition, policy briefs are often ignored or not produced.
  • The slow pace of policy as well as legal instrument development is a massive problem with important legislation often becoming stalled and remaining in the pipeline for many years.
  • It was suggested that a major maritime disaster or set-back may be needed to strengthen government’s resolve to tackle a number of issues that remain unresolved.
  • A dedicated maritime department within government was once again discussed as a solution to coordinating the maritime efforts of the country; and that the maritime agenda needs to be raised more often within government structures.
  • While regional and continental bodies exist, these cannot override national interests. The AU needs to strengthen its maritime desk.
  • In the absence of true collaboration and visibility; many private companies are simply just getting on with it while policy and government strategy lags behind.

At the end of the day, most agreed that adding another maritime intervention or initiative to the space would simply further the fragmentation of efforts. More collaboration and coordination are the ultimate solutions. Sadly, this is a common refrain and will take significant effort for stakeholders to pay more than lip service to the notion of breaking down silos.

Thank you to my hosts and fellow-panellists for a most interesting afternoon of discussions. It was also good to get out from behind the computer screen and zoom meetings to engage in person – albeit behind masks.


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.


Weekly Press Review – 16 August 2013

The Fisheries Department is back in the hot seat this week (again) with officials again being criticised for still not getting the country’s research and patrol vessels back in the water.

Acting Fisheries Department deputy director-general, Desmond Stevens had the rather unenviable task of updating parliament on the status of the vessels and assured those present that both the Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge were ready for action and merely waiting seaworthy certificates from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and that the Lilian Ngoyi would be ready to sail by the end of September. Various MPs stated that they would be waiting on the dock at Simon’s Town to board the vessel on the promised date.

Let us hope that the Fisheries Department can deliver this time. It would seem that the pressure is finally on.

The stranded Kiani Satu has remained in the press all week as all attempts to refloat the vessel, still stranded off the coast of Buffels Bay, have thus far failed. According to Captain Nigel Campbell, responsible for overseeing the salvage operation for SAMSA, it is the strong swell due to harsh weather conditions that is hampering the refloating process.

Obviously the oil that is still leaking from the damaged vessel remains a cause for concern and Parliament’s portfolio committee has called for harsher penalties to be imposed on those responsible for the pollution of local waters in an attempt to protect fish and marine life resources.

This is something that could really go a long way towards protecting our coastline. Let us hope that the powers that be are able to come up with a plan that can be implemented fairly and quickly.

There was also some maritime drama off the coast of Robben Island this week, as the crew of the fishing trawler Claremont, had to be rescued after the vessel crashed into the rocks along the island’s coastline.

The rescue operation was carried out over four hours by the NSRI and all 12 crew members were safely brought back to shore. Another successful NSRI operation.

It seems that the salvage season has started in Cape Town.

Weekly Press Review – 30 July 2012

Last week’s media coverage of abalone busts highlights that poaching is an ongoing problem in our waters. There was another small victory for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries along with the South African police department who raided a home in South Beach yesterday and discovered almost five tons of abalone with an estimated value of R12 million.

A 36-year-old Chinese national was arrested at the scene and another man is still at large. ‘This is probably the biggest bust for Milnerton police,’ said Capt Cyril Dicks.

Interestingly last week saw the cancellation of a scheduled conference on Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported  Fishing in Cape Town, but did see the Mother City host a CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) workshop on the subject. This did, however, not make news headlines.

Adventurer, Mike Horn, received some media attention. After traveling for nearly two decades he has decided that he would like to share some of his skills, knowledge and expertise with a younger generation. To do this he invited anyone between the ages of 15 and 20 interested in joining him on his travels to apply to the Mike Horn Expedition Centre in Switzerland. He chose 16 individuals for each leg of the journey on the yacht, The Pangaea, and he and his 16 young adventurers from around the world have just arrived in Cape Town.

Each adventurer has been trained in survival, first aid, sailing, outdoor equipment and the latest advances in technology.

Congratulations to this group of young explorers on their accomplishment and to Mike for passing on his passion to a younger generation.

Pretoria Comedy Club

If it wasn’t so sad, she would be funny. Problem is that the industry cannot afford to laugh at this lady. In the light of today’s announcement that the performance and evaluation system for Heads of Department in government has been amended, we recommend that the following forum is the only one that makes sense for the evaluation of the performance of the Head of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

A pressing comment

Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Pieter van Dalen, has stepped up to the pulpit largely created by the likes of fisheries commentator, Shaheen Moolla over recent months. On Friday he was once again catapulted into the media spotlight when he was asked to leave the Press Club meeting due to be addressed by none other than DAFF Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

The debate that has ensued has been interesting as have the comments made by the Minister during the briefing.

While I support the quest that Van Dalen has  undertaken to make the minister accountable to her constituency as defined by the Department’s title, and I support his right to be at the meeting as a member of the Press Club – I do wonder at the legitimacy of a Press Club’s constitution that opens its membership to unrelated sectors.

As a member of the media I do not (and cannot) belong to professional industry clubs for accountants, doctors or the like; and I wonder if politicians take an equal interest in joining such professional clubs.

And so my take on the whole affair:

Minister Joemat-Pettersson should probably have anticipated the (political and media) uproar that was going to follow her demands to have Pieter van Dalen removed and would have come out smelling sweeter than the perlemoen she keeps accumulating for the Department had she just got on with it. Let’s face it – any question that Van Dalen was likely to ask, the press had already got waiting for her anyway.

Pieter van Dalen as a member of the Press Club had every right to be there. Whether the Press Club should open their doors to politicians is an entirely different debate and one which should probably be addressed. His decision to leave can be considered political gesturing for the sake of the media, but at the end of the day it  was really probably  the only logical decision he could make.

The Press Club should reconsider their constitution in terms of membership criteria. Ironically – although currently not a member of the Cape Town Press Club – this incident has made me reconsider this decision.

The comments made by the minister are not the topic of this blog, but certainly worth following up on by both journalists and politicians, irrespective of their membership to any professional clubs! We should all be pressing on to ensure that the current questions surrounding the minister’s leadership of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are fully answered.

Don’t sign a petition to save the rhino!

If you’ve ever eaten a crayfish taken illegally out of the sea, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. If you’ve ever snuck a perlemoen out the sea or eaten one that has been, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. If you’ve ever eaten fish in a restaurant with questionable origins or on the endangered list, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. Hell – if you’ve ever littered on a beach, please do not sign any anti-poaching petitions.

Thousands of South Africans are getting behind the plight of the rhino and with good reason. It’s quick and easy to sign a petition or post a facebook status about how outraged you are about the massacre of these animals, but how helpful is this really?

All poaching, illegal harvesting and unregulated fishing is a consequence of market demands. It’s that simple. Without a market, there is no one to supply. The consequences are depleted oceans, deforestation, extinct species and an ailing planet.

Overfishing around the world is being driven by demanding markets willing to pay a premium to satisfy their appetite. Just how different is that to the nature of the rhino poaching problem currently being experienced in South Africa?

The solution? The solution lies in education – in educating the market that demands the product. It’s irrelevant that we in South Africa know that rhino horn is not all it’s cracked up to be – the end user of the product needs to be informed.

So why am I asking you not to sign petitions? By all means go ahead, but please do not be naive about the impact it will have – and when you do add your name to the list, give some thought to your own role in creating market demands that impact the future health of the earth and its species.

Experience life at sea!

If life is about collecting a series of experiences that enrich your existence and perhaps even set you apart from those that are content to live their lives from their couches, then the maritime industry surely delivers more than most!

This morning I attended a presentation at the Department of Forestry and Fisheries where two young fisheries inspectors spoke of their six-week trip on board the Ocean Protector at the invitation of their Australian counterparts. It was plain to see that Asheem Khan and Andri van Niekerk had absorbed every possible aspect of the sea patrol that took them from Australia to  Heard Island, St Paul Island and Amsterdam Island before returning to Fremantle in Australia.

By all accounts they were exposed to a wealth of experiences while at sea that saw them engaging with potential illegal fishing vessels, practicing boardings, testing out their dry-suits, firearm training as well as fitness training. They visited the islands, noted the sea life and most importantly cemented relationships with the Australian and French inspectors and seafarers operating in these waters.

The South African duo also came back with their own recommendations for our local department to consider, but it was clear that the actual experience of being involved in this co-operative patrol will stay with them beyond the implementation of any of these possible recommendations and that the world that most of us do not get to see far from our shores offers so much to those who are willing to embrace an exhilarating life.

You can read more about their actual trip in the forthcoming issue of Maritime Review Southern Africa which will be in the post mid-June.