Lights go out for fishing harbours

taken from by Xolani Koyana and Aziz Hartley

Hout Bay and Kalk Bay fishing harbours are among seven where navigational and harbour entry lights have been off for weeks, putting vessels at considerable risk.

“This is posing a great danger to international and local maritime traffic at these harbours,” the Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries said.

On February 14, the South African Navy’s Hydrographic Office issued a Coastal Navwarning (navigational warning) for fishing and non-commercial ports and said on its website that entrance lights and “associated aids” were out of operation at Gordon’s Bay, Harbour Island, Port Alfred and Lamberts Bay.

Hout Bay has been without the lights for more than a month, and Gansbaai and Kalk Bay have been without lights for over two weeks.

National Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon said no navigational and harbour entry lights were “obviously dangerous” particularly to sailors who did not know the areas.

Department spokesperson Carol Moses said Transnet’s National Ports Authority was responsible for the lights

“Transnet (Navigation Light Services) has not serviced the navigation lights. In some instances, it removed the navigation lights and equipment from these harbours. All maritime traffic is exposed to huge risk as these navigation lights and its location co-ordinates are registered internationally. The department has been advised by the State attorney that the mandate and provision of these navigation lights along the SA coastline is the mandate of Transnet,” Moses said. She said the department had given the relevant documentation to Robin Poggenpoel, an official at Transnet’s regional office.

Approached, Poggenpoel said he could not comment and referred queries to South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa).

However, an official at Samsa, Dave Colly, said it was not its responsibility to maintain the lights, but either that of the the department or the Ports Authority.

Transnet spokesman Sigonyela Mboniso said: “We are not responsible for those ports. This is not a Transnet issue.”

Asked who was, he said: “I have no idea at all.”

Artisinal Fishers’ Association chairman Andrew Johnson said small-scale fishers were restricted from being out at night, but recreational fishers and other private sailors could sail any time and were exposed to danger at night if navigational lights were out.

“The safety of fishermen and other sailors should be top priority and that is not being done. It is not only the lights, but generally there is a problem with the upkeep of small harbours. They are dirty and there are broken gates. Harbours are no longer as pristine because money is not being spent on them. Departments blame each other,” Johnson said.

Asked who he thought was responsible for the harbours, he said: “MCM (Marine and Coastal Management) or the Department of Public Works – nobody really knows.”

Lambinon said: “It has been a while and we have complained. But we don’t want to get involved in who is responsible.”

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