The Navy's failure to conduct critical research cruises with the SAS Africana on behalf of the Department of Fisheries is threatening more than 2 000 jobs in the pilchard and anchovy industries.
The Fisheries Department's deal with the Navy to temporarily steward the state's marine research and patrol vessels is now a proven failure.
The SAS Africana had to be towed back into port a week ago, shortly after it set out on the critical pelagic research cruise. Sea water had entered the fuel tank, resulting in engine failure. Procurement for parts through the Navy is a cumbersome process and gives no care for emergencies.
It has come to the DA's attention that it will probably take at least two weeks before the cruise departs again; this despite an assurance from the Navy's Rear-Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg that the vessel would be ready for departure by last week Thursday.
Research cruises are critical to establishing a scientifically credible Total Allowable Catch (TAC) within each fisheries sector. Long-term fishing rights are then allocated on the grounds of the TAC to ensure the sustainability of each respective sector. Because of the delay in the pelagic cruise, we now believe there is a strong probability that the TAC for the pilchard sector may be cut by 15%. This would result in significant job losses and salary losses of approximately R180 million. The pelagic sector currently employs some 15 000 people. Thousands would therefore lose their jobs if the cruise is not completed on time.
To avoid this disaster, it is the DA's strongly held view that the cruise must be outsourced to an industry body that is competent and able to complete the cruise within the designated timeframe. This is what happened with the Algoa, which was handed back to the Department of Environmental Affairs and then outsourced to Smit Amandla, the previous contract holders with the Fisheries Department. We see no reason why the same cannot now be done with the Africana.
It has also come to our attention that conditions on the ship are unacceptable - water restrictions mean that only scientific personnel are currently allowed to shower. The toilets are not functioning on the upper deck and the ship is infested with mice and cockroaches. When the ship was under the management of private operator Smit Amandla, this was never the case. Experts are in agreement that the Navy should not be operating these research vessels at all and they should again be outsourced.
We will be writing to Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to call for urgent intervention to mandate similar outsourcing of the operation of the SAS Africana.
The fisheries sector is a significant contributor to the South African economy. We cannot allow a disinterested Minister to jeopardise an entire industry.
Pieter van Dalen, Shadow Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries