Harbour bed gets a clean

One of the divers pulling out some parts of an old sunken ship.

There is no doubt that Hout Bay Harbour has some of the most breathtaking views in Cape Town – above sea level, that is.

Take a trip down under, however, and the view quickly becomes breathtaking for all the wrong reasons.
The dredging company, Guerini Marine Construction (GMC), is tasked with exploring the harbour bed to remove the dirt, which is said to be on the increase in the harbour.
GMC site manager, Rodney Walker, explained that some of the larger vessels were unable to climb the cradles at the harbour due to the amount of dirt on the harbour bed.
“There are bigger boats that require work, but are unable to come onto the harbour cradles due to the amount of the mess that is laying on the bed and it’s our duty to send divers into the water to remove this dirt,” he said.
From mattress to tyres, old parts of ships, plastic bottles, furniture and much more are regularly pulled from the water.
“There was a survey recently conducted at the harbour and it highlighted the fact that the bed of the harbour was rising with dirt. However, this survey cannot tell you exactly how much dirt is down there and it’s only when the divers hit the floor do we make these shocking discoveries,” Mr Walker said.   

Divers go into the water two at a time, slowly removing the waste from the bed of the harbour with pumps.

Ninety percent of the divers operating under the GMC banner are Hout Bay locals and the project was nearly brought to a halt recently when locals stormed the site to question their employment policies.

Community Liaison Officer for GMC, Angelo Josephs, explained that Mr Walker had reported for duty at the harbour for the first time on Monday December 16 and was shocked to be approached by locals.

However, the air was quickly cleared and the matter ruled a “misunderstanding”.

“This was probably just one of those minor challenges we experienced on this project. The locals were not aware that most, in fact like 95%, of the employees working on this very site were actually from the community and not outsourced. We quickly attended to it and the locals understood and we just called it a misunderstanding,” Mr Josephs said.

The project started in the first week of December, but the GMC site had already been setup in November and preparations were in place to tackle the bed of the harbour.

Many of the local divers under the GMC banner were trained by GMC.

Stefan Braaf, Nevin Adonis and Marcello Louw are part of a group of seven divers from Hout Bay’s harbour community who stopped poaching abalone after qualifying as professional divers, (“Magnificent seven almost done salvaging,” Sentinel, February 16, 2019).

After salvaging vessels in Hout Bay harbour, GMC, which together with a Gordon’s Bay-based dive school trained the divers, the three men were seconded to Saldanha Bay to assist on a “problematic” vessel” and ended up salvaging a sunken vessel, (“Hangberg divers salvage vessel in Saldanha”, Sentinel News, April 13 2018).

Mr Joseph said thereafter they had formed a relationship with GMC and started roping in divers from the Hout Bay community.

A fisherman at the harbour, Adrian Malherbe, said it was a relief to see divers working so hard to clean the bed of the harbour.

“It can be very damaging to our boats, our livelihoods I should say. The bed has not been safe and I have heard of some people who did damage to their boats already,” he said.

When asked how he thought the bed of the harbour became so dirty, he replied: “Not really sure, because some of the pieces they pull out of the water are really old. Perhaps a boat that sunk or people dumping their things in the ocean, who knows?”

Mr Walker could not provide an exact date as to when the bed would be cleared, but confirmed that they were making huge strides.