R10m sails off with police boats

R10m sails off with police boats

Sunday Times
Bobby Jordan
23 December 2012

Patrol vessels and deposit lost as company capsizes

The problem far exceeds the enforcement capacity available to deal with it. The fallout affects all of us These vessels are a perfect fit for any coastguard or police agency.

SOUTH African taxpayers funded a deposit of about R10million to build a new fleet of police patrol boats ­ only to see them auctioned off to somebody else.

The four state-of-the-art vessels were commissioned by the police in January 2007 to beef up their ailing water wing.

Now it has emerged that they were auctioned off to a private security company in the United Arab Emirates and will be deployed off the east coast of Africa to protect commercial shipping from pirates.

The R32-million tender to build the boats was awarded to Cape Town company Eraco. But Eraco later filed for liquidation and the boats were attached by the sheriff of the court.

This week the Sunday Times established that the police did not bid at the auction in 2010 and appear to have cut their losses.

They declined to comment this week or say how much money they lost on the deal.

KND Naval Design, a Cape Town boat-building company, snapped up the half-built vessels at the auction for about R10 million.

Since the auction, the police water wing has not invested in any new vessels, and its fleet has fallen into disrepair.

Maritime experts say the patrol vessels could have had a significant impact on protecting abalone along the coast, where poachers operate with virtual impunity.

The police water wing, or sea border unit, is on a tight budget with just a handful of operational boats.

The new vessels would have been based in Saldanha Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Richards Bay.

The government’s fisheries patrol fleet, formerly operated by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has been largely inactive since being transferred to the navy earlier this year.

Meanwhile the auctioned vessels are nearly all complete and will soon be deployed. The first was launched in Dubai this month and is awaiting sea trials.

KND managing director Kobus Potgieter said he had installed advanced equipment on the instructions of his client.

The first two craft now have underwater cameras, helicopter drones and rigid inflatable boats.

Potgieter had hoped the vessels would stay in South Africa.

“I offered them [the SAPS] the option to discuss the possibility to finish the vessels for them at a fee. No reply was received,” he said. “They basically wrote off the deposit of the contract, which was around R10-million.”

Potgieter said medium-sized patrol vessels were more effective in policing the coast than larger vessels, such as SA’s frigates. “These medium-size vessels are a perfect fit for any coastguard or police agency or country. They are the right size to react quickly when needed. These vessels are not expensive to run and maintain.”

South Africa’s abalone stocks are being decimated by poachers feeding markets in Asia.

In August police water wing members were involved in a dramatic stand-off with poachers off Robben Island and arrested several of them. But only one of their three vessels was stopped.

Confiscated items included 18 scuba cylinders, four dive torches, four buoyancy compensators and more than 2 000 shucked abalone.

Commentators said the operation illustrated the dire need for more patrol vessels to combat the highly organised poaching syndicates.

This week the City of Cape Town launched its own marine patrol unit and made warehouse space available for its police counterparts.

The city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the unit would help support the water wing.

“The problem far exceeds the enforcement capacity available to deal with it. The fallout [from poaching] affects all of us,” he said.

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