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Navy resumes anti-piracy patrols after two-month hiatus

After an absence of two months, the South African Navy has resumed anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Mozambique.

The frigate SAS Amatola sailed from Durban harbour yesterday to begin her latest three-month anti-piracy deployment in the waters of Tanzania and the Mozambique Channel. The Navy has maintained an anti-piracy patrol in the Mozambique Channel since early 2011, under Operation Copper. The naval presence generally consists of a frigate supported by a C-47TP Dakota maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force.

The frigate SAS Isandlwana returned to Simon’s Town in mid-March as a consequence of participating in Exercise Good Hope V with the German navy. The fleet support vessel SAS Drakensberg was subsequently despatched to replace the Isandlwana. After her three month deployment, the Drakensberg returned to Simon’s Town in the third week of June.

As such, there have been no South African naval vessels on patrol in the Mozambique Channel since mid-June. It is understood, however, that a SAAF C-47TP Dakota has continued providing a maritime surveillance capability from the forward station at Pemba in Mozambique.

The Amatola arrived in Durban on Friday and spent the weekend in port before heading north. This is Amatola’s second deployment on anti-piracy patrol. Unconfirmed reports have stated that Amatola is being deployed with only one of her two main propulsion diesel engines operational. This is not the first time that the Amatola has had problems with her engines. It was reported in August last year that the Navy was replacing the port diesel engine at a cost R16 million.

At the time, Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy, explained that the Navy believed “this to be a design shortcoming, but particular to the sea states we operate in. It happened when the vessel was rolling excessively and therefore the pressure changed as the exhaust went down. And there was water ingress... to the engine, [which] damaged the crankshaft of this engine," he said.

The frigates are fitted with a combined diesel and gas turbine water jet propulsion system, consisting of a General Electric gas turbine and two MTU diesel engines. Following an investigation, engineering changes were undertaken to improve the closing of the valves under extreme conditions. The replacement of the Amatola’s engine should have been completed in March this year.

Despite recent reports of mechanical issues aboard the Amatola, these have been denied by the Navy.

“There are no technical problems with SAS Amatola,” Navy spokesperson Commander Prince Tshabalala told defenceWeb, “(Amatola) is in Durban preparing for Operation Corona and Copper. Part of this process entails a check of maintenance and routine safety checks.”

Operation Corona is the SANDF operation to protect the borders of South Africa.