PORT ELIZABETH-- A special unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Eastern Cape Province has welcomed the still jail term handed down by the court for a convicted abalone poacher this week.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the Hawks, in the Eastern Cape, lauded the 20-year sentence which the Port Elizabeth High Court handed down to abalone poacher Morne Blignaut, 48, on Wednesday.

In June 2016, Blignaut was arrested and charged on two counts of racketeering and one count for operating a fishing establishment without a permit. He was arrested along with Frederick Nance, 22, William Nance, 55, Petrus Smith, 34, Jacobus Naumann, 37, and Marshelle Blignaut, 42, by the Hawks' Serious Organized Crime Investigation officers.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Hawks had conducted a project-driven investigation, into an abalone syndicate.

Blignaut and his accomplices were the subject of this project-driven investigation, dubbed 'Little Rhino'. Investigations established that from July 2013 to August 2014, the syndicate made a total of 30 million Rand (about 2.1 million US dollars) from their criminal activities, said Eastern Cape police spokesperson Captain Anelisa Feni.

Frederick and Nance, Smith, Naumann and Marshelle Blignaut pleaded guilty before the Port Elizabeth High court on Aug 22, this year and were expected to be sentenced by the Port Elizabeth High Court on Thursday.

Welcoming the sentence handed down on Morne Bignaut, acting head of the Hawks in Eastern Cape, Brigadier Gopz Govender, warned that the plundering of abalone would not be taken lightly.

This sentence should inform would be poachers that they are likely to face a similar imprisonment term after we arrest them, he said.


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