Thursday, May 01, 2008

To Big ... No Go


May 02 , 2008
Zululand OBSERVER


Ferry launch aborted









The excitement of Danie Bennett and his support crew was short-lived when Wetlands authorities refused permission to launch at St Lucia on Sunday



The vessel was towed into St Lucia from its construction site at Bundu Bashers, crossing the bridge into the village

Dave Savides

FAILURE to follow official procedures led to authorities refusing permission for a luxurious 120-seater passenger ferry to be launched at St Lucia on Sunday.
Built to replace an existing boat, the 16m long ‘Advantage Cruiser II’ was left high and dry following a week-long battle for consent to launch at the Estuary off the beach.
Various correspondence and meetings could not overcome obstacles to the proposed launch, with the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority only giving Advantage Tours permission for the vessel to enter St Lucia and be towed to the car park at the St Lucia Estuary beach access point.
Advantage Tours’ Danie and Riëtte Bennett are one of three tour operators who will apply for renewal of St Lucia Estuary cruise concessions by the end of May.
During December 2007, with the Whale Watching season closed, Danie Bennett and his crew began building the new vessel, which is claimed to exceed the requirements and specifications as set out by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
‘We feel heartsore -all we want to do is raise the standard of our existing service with a newer, bigger and better eco-friendly boat to accommodate a growing tourism industry,' said Riëtte Bennett.
'We will continue to offer our service using the existing boat until such time as permission is granted for the new boat launch.’

Own fault
The Bennetts appear to have the overwhelming sympathy and support of the local community.
However, according to Terri Castis, Commercial Manager of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, they are themselves to blame as they had failed to follow prescribed actions.
‘Mr Bennett has a concession contract with the Authority to operate a safety-certified tour boat for up to 30 passengers on the St Lucia estuary, which is within the proclaimed iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
‘This contract expires on 31 May 2008.
‘Mr Bennett has been advised several times in the past by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Wetland Park Authority that formal permission is required for him to vary or extend the conditions of his existing concession contract.
‘Irrespective, the iSimangaliso Authority immediately entered into discussions with Mr Bennett when he approached us for the first time last week with a view to launching his new, but not safety-certified, 120-seater passenger boat,’ said Castis.

Obligations
‘The iSimangaliso Authority has agreed to take the matter on urgent review, which includes considering the possible negative impact on the other legitimate estuary users, including tour boat operators.
‘We are prohibited by law from arbitrarily permitting any concessionaire to vary contractual obligations.
‘Launching and operation of a 120-seater boat would be a contravention of the existing concession contract, the record of decision issued for the St Lucia Beach Launch Site in terms of the National Environmental Management Act and may also be considered unfair to the other legitimate users of the estuary, including licensed tour boat operators,’ said Castis.
‘All users of the World Heritage resources are obliged to abide by the laws governing both the Park and procurement and the iSimangaliso Authority encourages all potential uses to follow a consensual process to reach agreed terms for concessionaire operators in the Park.’

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