Six Chinese fishing trawlers which entered South African waters without permission earlier this month and which were detained by the department of environment, forestry and fisheries have been fined and allowed to leave.
The six ships were intercepted by the fisheries’ patrol vessel Sarah Baartman on April 7 after they had been tracked entering the South African exclusive economic zone off the Northern Cape coast on April 3. The ships had been ordered out of Namibian waters by that country’s maritime authorities.
Fisheries spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said the ships had been held at the outer anchorage off Cape Town, but were allowed into harbour after the Chinese embassy submitted a diplomatic note asking that they be given shelter from adverse weather conditions.
The ships were boarded and inspected, but no fish were found aboard. Their fishing gear was also found to be stowed away.
“There was no evidence of illegal activity while in South African waters. Once the fines had been paid, the six trawlers were released and monitored as they transited South African waters,” Nqayi said.
The vessels were allowed to continue towards Mozambique, but again asked for permission to shelter at Algoa Bay from the SA Maritime Safety Authority after being caught up in heavy weather off Port Elizabeth. This was granted and they eventually left South African waters on April 20.
Nqayi said that integrated teams consisting of police and fisheries staff had been deployed along the coast during the lockdown period to protect resources and deal with non-compliance of Covid-19 regulations.
The South African Navy has also deployed the offshore patrol vessel SAS Makhanda along the KwaZulu-Natal coast for the duration of the lockdown period.
Navy spokesperson Captain Jaco Theunissen said the Makhanda deployment was to “support the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 by ensuring that no illegal immigrants enter South Africa via the coastline of KwaZulu-Natal”.