Pirate war: SA gets its hooks into maritime menace
We're harnessing new tech and military and legal smarts to tackle the scourge of illegal fishing and piracy
State capture may be on the retreat in Saxonwold, but not out at sea where SA’s resources are still being pillaged by a faceless foe.
However, a new initiative involving satellites, military hardware and brainpower is helping the long arm of the law extend beyond the horizon to catch illegal fishermen in the country’s massive offshore territory – and even further into areas frequented by marauding pirates.
So said South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) boss Sobantu Tilayi speaking late last week from Durban at the conclusion of a three-day International Maritime Organisation conference on maritime safety.
Tilayi welcomed multilateral efforts to stamp out piracy and illegal fishing at sea, but said much work remained to liberate the high seas from criminals. He said recent local initiatives placed SA at the forefront of maritime safety. These included internal discussions between maritime stakeholders and the department of justice, as well as a new study programme aimed at promoting international cooperation in maritime governance.
SA’s maritime territory is almost as large as its land area, including territory around its south Atlantic islands. However, budgetary constraints mean limited offshore surveillance of sought-after fishing grounds.
The SA Navy has also been an integral part of anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambican channel, imposing a military presence that has helped almost entirely eradicate ship hijackings over the past three years. However illegal fishing has proved harder to combat, due largely to illegal transhipments at sea.
Tilayi said new satellite surveillance technology could provide a game changer for offshore vessel monitoring:
“Our immediate problem is illegal fishing and we have a lot of that,” Tilayi told Times Select. “There is an inability to police our waters and that is where Nelson Mandela University is helping us.” He said researchers were formulating a coordinated approach involving the use of satellites, physical assets such as vessels and planes, together with a legal framework enabling prosecution of offenders.
Tilayi said justice department officials were committed to providing the necessary training to ensure judicial support: “We have spoke to those people (within the department). You need the state capacity to do those prosecutions in cases where you need to jail people,” Tilayi said.
He said transnational crimes such as illegal fishing and piracy were particularly challenging and required international cooperation: “It’s possible to have someone transgressing in the Mozambican channel but caught in South Africa. How do you prosecute that?”
SA is a signatory to the 2009 Djibouti Code of Conduct aimed at tackling piracy in the western Indian Ocean, and is due to sign the Jeddah Amendment to the Djibouti agreement which will extend international cooperation to several additional maritime crimes, including illegal fishing and waste dumping.
Captain Ravi Naicker, Samsa’s senior manager for navigation, security and environment, said international cooperation was key to further crimefighting success at sea: “A safer sea and safer ocean means eco benefits for the countries involved,” Naicker said last week at the conference.
Tilayi said the success in combating piracy augured well for success in combating other crimes: “There was a time when piracy was almost the most topical subject in the world – that was an untenable situation. It is important to know that we have moved a great deal from that – piracy is almost non-existent today,” he said.
“Pirates don’t sleep. Now it is about how best we ensure that the situation never comes back again,” Tilayi said.