South African anti abalone (pearlmon) poaching efforts

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Posted by on January 18, 2005 at 01:04:38:

They have a new anti-poaching weapon in the Overstrand.

His name is Tian Loedolff and he operates in a way that, if I had not seen it myself, I would not have believed possible.
He swims up to gangs of suspected poachers, alone and unarmed, and tells them to get out of the water. And they do.

"They can get very aggressive, but you must just face them," Loedolff said.

Loedolff, 33, quietly spoken and unassuming, is the new boy on the block in the Overstrand municipality's anti-poaching Marines. He began six weeks ago and heads the group of Marines based in Gansbaai, now the main area targeted by perlemoen poachers because stocks of the valuable shellfish have declined drastically elsewhere.

The Marines are one of the three components of Operation Trident, the anti-poaching unit to be launched next month to replace the defunct Operation Neptune. The other components are the Department of Environment's Marine and Coastal Management division and the police.

When the Cape Times joined Loedolff and his co-workers, Leon Persence and Marius Buys, on patrol, a call came through that a group of divers had entered the sea at Pearly Beach.

The team raced to the beach. At first it was difficult to spot the divers, the black hoods of their dive suits providing excellent cover in the kelp beds.

Loedolff and his two men ran over the rocks, Persence carrying a shotgun. They shouted at the divers to come out. The divers stayed where they were. Loedolff ran back to the bakkie, donned his wetsuit and slipped into the water.

"That guy's crazy," said one of the bystanders. "He's one against six."

As Loedolff swam towards them, the divers began swimming away along the coast. After about 15 minutes they were just specks. Persence and Buys set up the telescope on the dunes. It was about 25 minutes before Loedolff caught up with the divers.

"He's talking to them," Buys said. We waited and watched.

Then the group began swimming towards the shore. The six divers emerged with Loedolff behind them, holding a number of long metal levers used to prise perlemoen off the rocks.

He had asked them for their levers and they had given them to him. Their dive bags were empty. If they had had any perlemoen, he said, they had dumped it.

"This is not my only way of operating. I've done it only a few times. If the divers have been in the water only about 20 minutes, like these guys, they will not have had a chance to get much abalone, so we will try to get them out of the water.

"Our main business is to try to keep the perlemoen alive and in the sea. It looks good on reports to say how many illegal perlemoen you seized, but those are dead perlemoen, so they are gone for ever.

"If divers have been in for two or three hours, they will have a lot of perlemoen and then we set up observation points and wait for them to come out so we can make arrests."

I spoke to the divers, trying to find out more about them, but they looked away and said nothing. All I gleaned was from one of the divers, who said the group was from Umtata and was paid R250 a kilogram for perlemoen.

I asked Loedolff if he was not afraid of approaching groups of poachers who could be armed.

"Well, ja. But you just swallow it. I pray before I do something like that. I believe God protects me."

Loedolff let the six divers go. They walked off, smiling and chatting, one smoking a cigarette. He could have opened a docket on suspicion of abalone poaching, but as the divers had no abalone in their possession, it would have been impossible to prove. They could argue they were fishing for alikreukel.

"It would be a waste of the court's time," Loedolff said.

Phil Snyman, public prosecutor at the green court in Hermanus, confirmed this.

Like many who work in his field, Loedolff is passionate about the environment.

He wanted to work in nature conservation, but his parents could not afford to send him to college. He became a policeman like his father, eventually ending up in the Diamond and Gold Branch of the organised crime unit.

Some of his happiest years were spent working in Angola in the security section of an international diamond company.

"Angola is beautiful and the people are some of the nicest I've met."
Loedolff broke his leg badly in a motorbike accident and was unable to return to his job in Angola. He had applied to work in Iraq for a security company when the Marines job came up.

"I'm not earning a drop of what I would have got in Iraq, but I don't care. I enjoy this job. I love the sea, I love the smell of it, everything about it. I'm very happy here."

When Operation Trident is launched, Loedolff is to head the Marines' special investigations unit.

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