Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

SMIT Amandla Marine on Thursday handed in for investigation documents related to the period when it held the contract for the crewing and management of the fleet of patrol vessels belonging to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Officers of the Directorate of Primary Crime Investigations (the Hawks) raided the head office of the specialist maritime management company on Thursday and collected papers. However, Smit Amandla Marine spokeswoman Clare Gomes said the visit was a request for information, which was handed over, and the company had not been notified that it was the subject of any criminal investigation.

"We have been requested to provide information in connection with an investigation into the department’s vessel management contract and are co-operating fully," Ms Gomes said.

This is the latest twist in the long-running saga of the seven patrol and research vessels meant to protect and survey South Africa’s fishing stocks, which make up a R5bn industry.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson cancelled the contract in March last year and ordered the ships be handed over to the navy.

The navy has been unable to make the ships operational. They remain moored in Simon’s Town as they have lost their seaworthy certification. The department has initiated an emergency procurement to get at least survey vessel the Afrikaner crewed and seaworthy so it can conduct the surveys that would allow South African catches to be properly certified for the European market.

In March, the department contracted international shipyard Damen to prepare all the vessels for seaworthy inspection and last month entered into a short-term contract with Natuic Africa for the crewing, bunkering and operations of the vessels. The department has said it will issue tenders for long-term management of the ships later this year.

Smit Amandla Marine has complained it was victimised after it blew the whistle on irregularities in the tender process in which it lost the R850m-a-year contract to a consortium led by Sekunjalo Investments.

Sekunjalo has subsequently withdrawn from any further tender for the crewing of the ships.

Ms Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman, Palesa Mokomela, said Smit Amandla Marine was never the target of the criminal investigation instituted by the minister last year. Ms Joemat-Pettersson handed the inquiry to the Hawks in September. Her allegations of corruption in the fisheries branch stemmed from a forensic report by auditors Ernst & Young in March last year.

Around that time, Democratic Alliance MP Pieter van Dalen asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the circumstances surrounding the awarding of the tender. He said on Thursday that Ms Madonsela had written to him saying the report would be released this month.