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SA Navy assists sailors off Mozambique

altThe South African Navy’s anti-piracy effort in the Mozambique Channel paid off for a number of sailors who were given urgent medical treatment by the frigate SAS Amatola.

Shortly after coming alongside in Nacala, Mozambique, on March 15 as part of her anti-piracy activities, SAS Amatola received a call from a Panamanian vessel (MV Meem) in distress at anchor in Nacala Bay. The vessel was at anchor because she was refused a berth alongside in order to refuel and take on supplies due to a dispute between her owners, her agent and the port authorities, the South African Navy said in a statement.

The MV Meem had been at anchor since February 11. Her last port of call was Mogadishu (Somalia) and she was going to be scrapped when she arrived back at her home port.

The Captain of the MV Meem primarily requested medical assistance as he had three critically ill personnel on board, presumably infected with malaria. One of his men had already died a few days earlier. According to SAS Amatola’s assessment, the situation needed a quick response and a decision was made to send the Executive Officer (Second in Command) and a medical team with the doctor from SAS Amatola to assist with medication and food for the MV Meem, the South African Navy (SAN) said.

“Once on board, the situation was found to be poor. The ventilation system of the vessel was not working due to a shortage of diesel which made the inside of the ship almost inhabitable due to the heat. The crew was thus forced to sleep outside where they were being bitten by mosquitoes, hence they tested positive with malaria.” The three sailors who tested positive for malaria were treated by the South African medical doctor, allowing them to successfully recover, the SAN said. The crew of SAS Amatola also assisted the ship in distress with food supplies.

According to Officer Commanding SAS Amatola, Captain (Navy) Michael Mickey Girsa, the efforts of the ship’s crew indicate the South African National Defence Force’s commitment not only to fight piracy in Mozambique Channel but to render humanitarian relief to mariners in distress.

SAS Amatola has been deployed to Mozambique under the auspices of Chief of Joint Operations on anti-piracy mission since February 2013.

SAS Amatola encountered her first contact just two weeks into her latest patrol. A fishing vessel anchored on the horizon 36 nautical miles off the coast of Quellani, north-east of Beira, attracted the attention of the duty watch and after being unable to establish contact, the vessel was boarded by five Maritime Reaction Squadron members, one SANDF Special Forces operator and two Mozambican Defence Force soldiers. It was established that the vessel was legally allowed to fish in the area.

The anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel are an integral part of Operation Copper, a Southern African Development Community (SADC) initiative to prevent pirates coming down the east coast of Africa into busy South African waters.

In addition to the Navy, the SA Air Force also supports the operation with a maritime patrol aircraft based at Pemba in Mozambique.

In April last year the South African Navy helped catch seven pirates in the Mozambique Channel, in the Navy’s first hands-on capture of pirates since it began patrolling the waters off the East coast.
The SAN was called in to assist the French Navy after an unsuccessful pirate attack on a Filipino merchant vessel. A French aircraft located the pirate mother ship off the Tanzanian coast, with a skiff in tow. The South African Navy replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg chased the pirate vessel north, where it was intercepted by a Spanish warship. Seven suspected pirates were apprehended and the six Sri Lankan crew members were freed. The skiff with five suspected pirates was located on Songo Songo Island by Tanzanian authorities.

A trilateral agreement was signed by South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania in February 2012, allowing the three countries the right to, among other things, patrol, search, arrest, seize and undertake hot pursuit operations on any maritime crime suspect. In accordance with the trilateral agreement, this allows the SA Navy to patrol as far as Tanzania.

Anti-piracy patrols are usually conducted by the SA Navy’s four frigates (SAS Amatola, SAS Mendi, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Isandlwana).