Twenty-four suspected poachers were arrested on and around historic Robben Island this week after the skippers of boats waiting for them spotted patrol vessels and left them behind, says Western Cape police.
Police spokesperson Siyabulela Malo said they and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries had acted on information received about possible abalone poaching around the island.
“While patrolling the surrounding waters, the members spotted a number of boats that sped off after becoming aware of the police presence. The divers were, however, left behind in the sea,” added Malo.
The incident happened around 02.00am on Tuesday.
With back-up, 17 people were arrested and face charges of transgressing the Marine Living Resource Act, which includes the protection of wild abalone, and being in possession of diving gear in a listed area.
However, no abalone was found on them.
On Tuesday afternoon, authorities went back, and after a search, found seven more people in diving gear behind rocks outside the harbour wall at Murray’s Bay.
Eight diving kits were confiscated.
The suspects, aged between 21 and 50, hail from Hermanus, Hout Bay, Kleinmond and Grassy Park.
They are expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
The Western Cape’s acting provincial commissioner, Lieutenant General Sindile Mfazi, commended the team for its commitment to protecting marine resources.
Robben Island is known globally for the incarceration of anti-apartheid activists like former president Nelson Mandela, with tourists being ferried to it every day.
However, it is also a marine protected area (MPA) to protect certain species and allow for the recovery of fish stocks, with a map designating the borders of the MPA and demarcating where no fishing is allowed.
There is a controlled zone for diving with a permit, and an inner controlled zone that allows for fishing with a permit between sunrise and sunset for abalone and line fishing.