Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Unlawful Arrest for DAFF

Yes, it is sounding like the proverbial stuck record but DAFF can be counted on ill-informed and just bad decision-making almost like clock-work.

On 13 May 2011 the skipper of a foreign flagged vessel landed his fishing vessel at Cape Town harbour and offloaded the vessel's fish and took on stores and bunkers as per the foreign vessel licence and permit issued under the Marine Living Resources Act. As is increasingly the norm, there were no fishery control officers in sight to monitor or record any landings (not that foreign fish landings are required to be in the presence of an FCO).

The catch logs and the separate cold store reports confirmed that what was declared was in order. However, without warning on 19 May 2011, the skipper of the vessel was summarily arrested, detained, his passport confiscated and then released on payment of bail. The alleged "charge" was that the vessel offloaded fish to a cold store not listed on the permit and accordingly, breached the permit conditions which are set out in Annexure B to the permit conditions.

It must be noted that at this stage, the vessel owner had retained the services of a leading Cape Town law firm and Feike was subsequently contacted for further advice.

What became immediately apparent was that the skipper was arrested on a bogus charge - there is no legal obligation under the MLRA, the regulations or the permit conditions that the skipper or any person must stipulate where the fish is to be offloaded. Despite this rather simple observation (assuming the FCO could read ... and we know all about assumptions...) being pointed out to the DAFF officials concerned, they seemed unperturbed. The arrest continued!

In the end, the senior public prosecutor was approached by the vessel agent's attorney and the case was withdrawn because there was no law that was breached.

Feike has advised the vessel owner to pursue a damages claim against the Minister of DAFF and each of the officials responsible for this unlawful and ill-advised arrest and detention of the skipper.

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