AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa has made a number of impressive contributions to regional and local maritime and oceanic governance thus far in 2013. However, the resulting global, regional and national commitments will put additional pressure on the responsible government departments and an already stretched navy. This raises the question: does South Africa have the capacity to secure the countryÂ’s maritime domain?
Maritime and ocean governance is a great challenge, particularly given the inexorable effect of geography, where the South Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans have long been infamous for their unforgiving nature and the toll they exact on people relying on them for their livelihoods or seeking to safeguard their waters.
South Africa’s recent hosting of the 5th Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) summit in Durban from 26 to 27 March 2013, as well as a BRICS Maritime Trade Forum, has added to its maritime responsibilities and commitments. A number of agreements were signed with other BRICS members offering areas where South Africa could expect to benefit, such as through fishing exports. South Africa’s Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, noted their importance, stating that ‘this agreement will be beneficial to South Africa for a number of reasons, including capacitating human capital through training opportunities and combating unregulated fishing’.
On the regional level, South Africa has committed itself to the implementation of the Benguela Current Convention (BCC). The BCC was signed in March between South Africa, Namibia and Angola, who pledged to ‘promote a coordinated regional approach to the long-term conservation, protection, rehabilitation, enhancement and sustainable use of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) to provide social, economic and environmental benefits’, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs. In terms of the BCC, South Africa has to monitor and protect a large and lucrative area, since it is the actor with the most suitable naval and maritime capacity for the task.
This is in addition to the country’s responsibilities off its Indian Ocean coast, after the South African Navy sent the SAS Amatolanorthwards in January to the Mozambique Channel to resume anti-piracy Operation Copper patrols. This further strains capacity, and it helps to illuminate the situation facing all branches of government tasked with protecting other vulnerable areas over which the South African state has now assumed greater responsibility. The widely welcomed declaration by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, on April 9 of a marine protected area (MPA) around the distant Prince Edward and Marion Islands obliges South Africa to ensure that this area is also protected. This is a concern for the following reasons:
- Numerous ships particularly from Asia continue to commit acts of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in these waters, often targeting and catching highly valued Patagonian toothfish in unknown quantities with blatant disregard for environmental security, biodiversity and the management of fishing stocks.
- South Africa’s total Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is huge, approximately 1 530 000 square kilometres in size. South Africa’s four patrol vessels, Sarah Baartman, Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge, cannot cover the entire area at present.
- The MPA is located between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees, where the poor weather conditions of the ‘roaring forties’ require robust vessels and crews that are adequately prepared and seaworthy. Ships in the area will be buffeted by high winds and powerful waves, which rule out any attempts at mounting continuous patrols of the area.
In this regard, the response to the controversy over the maintenance of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ patrol vessels will illuminate how South Africa intends to increase its maritime and ocean governance capacity. Earlier this month the department was forced into signing a hurried six-month agreement with Damen Shipyards Cape Town to repair its six vessels docked in Simon’s Town. Prior inspections had revealed the need for urgent repairs, at a time when the vessels should be conducting their patrols and assisting in surveys and research.
The agreement should ensure that the research vessel Africana and the offshore patrol vessel (OPV) Sarah Baartman will be the first to put to sea again as they remain the most suited vessels for the immediate tasks at hand. The Sarah Baartman is designed for sailing to and undertaking patrolling activities in the Port Edward and Marion Islands, while the older Africana can start acquiring up-to-date marine data. Garnering new data is crucial for policy and decision making, and in turn will aid decisions on future fishing regulations and the successful prosecution of vessels that commit acts of IUU fishing.
South Africa can also play an important role in global governance and advocacy. One of the few accomplishments that came out of the Rio+20 in 2012 was the emphasis placed on ocean management. A noteworthy development in this regard is the involvement of the Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, as co-chair in the Global Ocean Commission. The Global Ocean Commission is an advisory body aimed at contributing to the creation of conditions conducive to the governance of the high seas and oceans. It held its first meeting in March 2013 in Cape Town, and will publish its recommendations in 2014 so as to precede and influence the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s Rio20 mandated discussions on ocean biodiversity conservation.
South Africa is undertaking a number of impressive global, regional and national maritime and ocean governance efforts. However, these should be watched carefully, as they promise much but will struggle to adequately deliver on all their objectives. Notwithstanding long-term commitments to global ocean governance, the immediate focus of maritime security will arguably remain those national and regional concerns and commitments required to safeguard the security of South Africa’s territorial and EEZ waters.
By: Timothy Walker