Buzz over mystery Chinese vessels

SA fisheries department denies trawlers were fishing off Transkei coast

SOCIAL media has been abuzz for the past week amid claims of Chinese trawlers illegally fishing in South African waters just off the Transkei coastline.

But Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele said the trawlers were simply sailing from China to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“These new vessels were reportedly bought by a fishing company in Angola,” she said.

“No fish and no fishing gear were found on board the vessels.”

Mokomele said the department was alerted to claims about nine trawlers sailing from KwaZuluNatal towards the Eastern Cape.

“One of the DAFF fisheries patrol vessels was in the Eastern Cape. The officials relayed the information to the crew and this led to the tracking of the vessels,” she said.

It was then established that the trawlers were heading to the DR Congo.

The trawlers had sailed past Cape Town by late yesterday.

The social media frenzy started after Graham Rhodes released a picture on Facebook page “Salt Fishing South Africa” about Chinese trawlers anchored off Transkei.

“Interesting facts … all painted identically. All with the same name. No flags. Fished for about a week in the vicinity of a proclaimed MPA [marine protected area],” he said.

“I couldn’t trace them on my vessel tracing app,” the picture’s caption read.

Rhodes’s post was followed by images from Mark Hicks who had taken screen grabs from the Automatic Identification System, which is used to tracks ships worldwide.

“Can someone explain to me why, as an armchair warrior with a cellphone and a cheap android application, I can identify at least half a dozen Chinese fishing trawlers that mysteriously disappeared whilst travelling along our Transkei coastline last night?” Hicks asked.

The posts saw a massive outcry from the fishing community with thousands of shares and comments calling for action.

Commenting on Hicks’s post, Anthony Nel said: “Totally deplore . . . foreign trawlers poaching our waters.”

Al Spaeth posted: “They may not be catching sardines. These big trawlers smash inshore reefs with iron balls or rollers ahead of the nets which does far more permanent damage to the ecology.”

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