Environment

Ruined skipper hooks tuna permit

Glynnis Underhill

The owner of the ill-fated Miroshga says the licence to fish tuna is in the interest of transformation.

Thrown a line: Skipper Gregg Louw hopes the permit will give his ­Hout Bay business, sunk by a boating disaster, new life. (David Harrison, M&G)

A part-owner and ­skipper of the whale-watching boat ­Miroshga, which ­capsized off the coast of Hout Bay resulting in the death of a crew member and a tourist in 2012, has been awarded a tuna ­fishing permit in the latest ­government allocation.

Although many in the fishing and tourist boat industry are outraged that Gregg Louw has been awarded the sought-after permit, the 46-year-old from the fishing ­settlement of Hangberg is hoping the opportunity will turn his life around.

"I was wiped out," Louw told the Mail & Guardian in front of his boarded-up office in the busy ­harbour this week.

"I now have a new tuna licence. The Marine Living Resources Act is very clear. If you are a citizen of this country, you are entitled to benefit from the resources of this country. I am a second-generation fisherman.

"My dad is over 60 years old, and his life has been spent at sea. But he can’t show anything [for it], because he has never been given a right in his life. My brother is also still at sea, fishing as well. For the past 40 years, he has been at sea. He still has nothing."

Minstrels dressed in bright, sparkling-pink outfits pass by and greet Louw. He said the small band of Kaapse Klopse was from Hangberg and, like him, was just trying to make a living in the harbour.

Few business opportunities come along for the Hangberg community, said Louw, gazing up at the iconic Sentinel mountain that overlooks Hout Bay. Hangberg is situated on the steep city-owned slope at the foot of the Sentinel, but Louw said, despite its location close to the harbour, its residents were impoverished. This was why he had picketed in the city last week, calling for transformation in the fishing industry.

"There is little transformation in the fishing industry, and there is little transformation in Hout Bay," Louw said, pointing out the boats and stalls owned by white people.

"The biggest problem is that because of a lack of transformation ... 93% of the permits were in the hands of the previously advantaged. The department [of agriculture, forestry and fisheries] made it clear that 50% of tuna fishing rights had to be given to new entrants. That is why I applied."

Although players in the fishing industry suspect he might have been put up to the demonstration by the department's fisheries branch, which is under siege over its disputed permit allocations, Louw denied it and said he had given up his political ties.

He was the vice-chairperson of the Peace Mediation Forum of Hangberg, which was formed after running battles in 2010 between the police and residents over shack demolitions.

Louw, who also has a whale-watching licence, has a month in which to take up his tuna fishing permit, but he said his boat needed to be repaired first. He has approached government departments such as the department of trade and industry for financial help, and is hoping for a miracle.

"My boat is out of bounds," he said. "First thing, I need to get money to fix it up. What happened out there [the capsizing of his boat], why or who was responsible … people are quick to point fingers at the owners. Nobody looked at what we as a company strived to do. We were the only black empowerment company that was given an opportunity in whale watching and boat chartering. We were a company of hope."

In its report into the capsizing of the Miroshga, the South African Marine Safety Authority found that Louw's basic ­skipper competency certificate was not endorsed to allow him to captain a small passenger boat. As a result, his insurance refused to pay him out. As well as being financially ruined, Louw said he was devastated by the loss of life.

The authority certified the Miroshga as seaworthy at the time of its capsizing. Louw maintains an "act of nature" led to the disaster.

In the meantime, he has to wait to see whether criminal charges will be laid against him, as well as whether there will be civil claims from the family of the British tourist who died.

Lieutenant Colonel André Traut of the police said: "The docket is at the office of the director of public prosecutions. His discretion is awaited."


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