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Change the world

06/06/2024

Prof Hennie van As, Director of the Centre for Law in Action and head of South Africa’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Academy, FishFORCE, at Nelson Mandela University, has been appointed as a legal expert to the first Board of Directors of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Coordination Centre (MCSCC), established in 2023. 

The Board was appointed by the SADC Ministers of Agriculture, Food Security, Fisheries and Aquaculture for a period of two years, starting on 1 June 2024.
 
The Maputo-based MCSCC is a joint effort of the 14 SADC member states to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region, protect small-scale fisheries and secure the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on fish and other living resources from the Indian Ocean and inland freshwater sources.
 
“Being on the board of the MCSCC will enable me to accelerate the work, recommend laws and policies related to regional fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance; approve and monitor budgets; evaluate action plans; and provide guidance on how best to collaborate in cross-border and international fisheries crime control. This is essential in view of the increase in illegal activities associated with fisheries,” says Prof van As, who is also an admitted advocat and professor of Public Law.
 
According to research released at the end of October 2022 by the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC), Africa is losing an estimated US$25billion per year to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing run by organised crime syndicates. In South Africa, it is estimated that the country is losing at least US$60 million a year due to abalone/perlemoen poaching alone. This is according to the wildlife trade-monitoring organisation TRAFFIC.
 
The illegal trade in lobster, mud crab and other marine species is also on the increase.
The MCSCC’s targets align with those of the FishFORCE Academy South Africa, established in 2016 at Nelson Mandela University with funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“FishFORCE’s purpose is to reduce organised crime in the fisheries environment and to combat the illegal harvesting of marine and freshwater living resources with the ultimate aim to ensure food security,” explains Prof van As.
 
The Academy has been replicated in Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mauritius, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia where FishFORCE is training fisheries control officers, police officers and prosecutors.
 
Organised fisheries crime ranges from illegal fishing to human trafficking and forced labour, fraud, forgery, corruption, money laundering and tax and customs evasion. It knows know borders, and neither do many marine living resources.
 
Prof van As says: “Cases prosecuted as Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing should be addressed under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, with severe penalties. It is encouraging that a number of major abalone racketeering cases in South Africa over the past couple of years have done this, with sentences of 18 to 20 years.”
 
He explains the main smuggling routes for abalone and other illegally harvested marine living resources are either directly from South Africa or through Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Angola. The biggest destination is Hong Kong.
 
“Research I conducted for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows an increase in the transport of drugs and other contraband by sea,” says Prof van As.
“Organised criminal syndicates in South Africa, for example, are highly active in the Western Cape and expanding into the Southern and Eastern Cape, with region-wide networks.”
An article titled ‘Narco-Fish: Global fisheries and drug trafficking’ (Belhabib, D. Le Billon, P. and Wrathall, D (2020)) says the global trade of illegal drugs increasingly relies on fishing vessels, as discussed in https://news.mongabay.com/2020/07/drug-trafficking-could-be-putting-fragile-fisheries-at-risk-study-says/.
 
According to the authors: “The use of fishing vessels in drug trans-shipment has tripled over the past 8 years to about 15% of the global retail value of illicit drugs. Small-scale fishers are at risk of turning to the drug trade as an economic buffer against poverty, especially in contexts of mounting competition over declining fish stocks or strict marine conservation.”
 
Prof van As explains that while they expected to find vessels trafficking drugs to also be involved in other maritime crimes like illegal fishing, as the authors explain, this didn’t turn out to be the case. The rationale is that narcotic traffickers may increasingly use “clean vessels” that have not been involved in illegal fishing so that they don’t raise suspicion when entering territorial waters.
 
Prof van As says: “This trend is present in South Africa, confirmed in discussions with law enforcement agencies. We are also extremely concerned about the transhipment of drugs from large vessels to small recreational, fishing and ‘runner’ vessels along the coast. As far back as 2010 cocaine to the value of R500 million was found on a large ski boat in the Knysna lagoon. Drug trafficking of all kinds has significantly escalated in the region over the past couple of years.”
He adds: “There is very little control over the runner vessels, which meet up with larger vessels at sea to tranship contraband. Intelligence shows that ‘capsules’ containing drugs are towed behind
 
the runner vessels when they return to port. The capsules can be cut loose if patrol vessels approach. The capsules are also tied to buoys at sea from where they can be collected. Slipways and harbours that are not classified as ports of entry are particularly vulnerable.”
With the recent establishment of South Africa’s Border Management Authority, it is foreseen that points of departure currently used by the crime syndicates will become riskier and they will seek new avenues to export poached products. This has to be closely monitored.
The MCSCC will increase the capacity of South Africa and other SADC states to address all these issues.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za