Shark-diving firms slam ‘permit farce’

Two black-owned shark cage-diving companies that have failed to obtain permits to operate in Gansbaai have slammed the government’s decision as a blow to transformation in the industry. 

They claimed the Department of Environmental Affairs was failing to give black entrepreneurs an opportunity to break into the lucrative market, an accusation the department has denied, saying transformation counted 50 percent of the total score awarded to applicants. 

Last week, the department notified Sandown Bay Fishing Company and Innoflex, trading under Great White Explorers, that their applications for five-year shark-cage diving permits had been unsuccessful. Both companies have 100 percent BEE credentials and were allocated provisional permits last year. 

The companies applied for five-year permits almost two years ago, and tabled appeals last year against the decision to deny them permits. 

A total of 13 cage-diving permits have been allocated in the Western Cape: eight in Gansbaai; three in False Bay; and two in Quoin Point. A 14th permit for Mossel Bay has not yet been allocated. 

Tommy Geldenblom of Hermanus, director of Sandown Bay Fishing, heard last week that his application had been turned down. 

“We thought transformation would finally happen, but the decision shows the industry will always remain under white control. This just isn’t right. How can companies who did not get provisional approval score higher than those who did?” 

He said the criteria used to score new entrants was the same as those for existing permit holders. 

“You cannot compare the two: one is established, the other is not. Initially applicants just had to show they had access to a boat, but then boat inspections were done. The government misled us, making us believe we’d be granted an opportunity to compete with operators who have dominated the industry for the past 15 years.” 

Geldenblom said he wanted to meet Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa so that she could “explain and rectify her decision”. The entire process was a farce, he said. 

Sammy Brett, director of Innoflex, also received a provisional permit yet failed to secure a five-year licence. 

Brett said all the company’s directors had grown up in the Gansbaai suburb of Blompark and knew the industry, having been around when it started. 

“We really thought things would change when we were initially successful, but they haven’t. 

“The coloureds from the area continue to be only good enough as skippers and boat-hands. I have waited for this moment for eight years, but it all blew up in smoke.” 

He said the company had followed the legal route, doing everything on their own with no attorneys or consultants. 

“The big question remains why can’t our people be given an opportunity in this industry? Why is it when blacks want to achieve something, there’s a risk of safety to foreigners, but they are good enough to be skippers on these boats that take out the foreigners. God forbid that they actually own a business, then disaster will surely strike.

 “We need to know why the minister saw fit to grant us provisional permits but then pulled back at the 11th hour. 

A total of eight permits were allotted to the Gansbaai area. Brett said the government should consider making more permits available. 

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi denied that their permit allocations hampered transformation. He said three new applicants in Gansbaai, including two local companies who were provisionally successful, had not been successful in the appeal phase. 

“They were Innoflex and Sandown Bay Fishing Company. A new entrant, along with two existing permit holders, were excluded at that stage, rectified their exclusion on appeal, and were then successful. 

“One existing operator, South Coast Seafaris, was excluded on appeal after the new entrant, a Ms Lunguzo, scored higher on appeal than two of the three applicants who were provisionally awarded permits. This clearly fulfils the transformation objectives of the sector.” 

Nqayi said transformation was heavily weighted, counting for 50 percent of the total score awarded. “Two new operators were brought in by the exclusion of two existing operators – one at False Bay and at Gansbaai, as well as the two new permits issued for Quoin Point.” 

He said there were therefore four new entrants out of the 13 permits announced. 

“In addition, it is important to note that the appeal document signed by the minister notes that operators will be monitored with respect to transformation over the next five years – indicating the need for continued improvement in transformation in the sector.” 

Shaheen Moolla, managing director of the fisheries consulting company Feike, felt Molewa’s decisions on the permits had been correct, but said that issuing provisional permits to a number of “new entrants” had created false expectations. 

“The new entrants that were provisionally allocated permits have been extremely prejudiced by the department’s unwise and ill-advised strategy,” said Moolla. – Sunday Argus

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