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Combating drug trafficking the main focus of Ex Oxide 2017

Ex Oxide underway off La ReunionCountering drug trafficking is the main theme of Exercise Oxide 2017 taking place in Reunion between the French and South African navies, with board, search and seizure operations among exercise highlights.

The SA Navy’s contribution, the frigate SAS Amatola, with an embarked Super Lynx helicopter, arrived in Reunion on 24 November. South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Exercise Director, Brig Gen Gustav W Lategan, accompanied by the Joint Task Force Commander, Captain (SAN) HT Matsane, visited the Prefecture of La Reunion and paid a courtesy call to the FAZSOI (French Armées de la Zone Sud de l’Océan Indien) Exercise Director, Brig Gen E. Vidaud aboard the French Multi Mission ship, FS Champlain.

“We are happy to work with South Africa,” Vidaud said. “The strong link between South Africa and France across Reunion is important to maintain. By combining our strengths, we are a major player in the southern Indian Ocean area. "

Over the period 25 to 26 November 2017, SAS Amatola opened up its doors to the public of La Reunion, which included tours for FAZSOI military members and their families as well as a Community Relations Project where 60 children from a local school were given a tour of the ship, the SA Navy said.

During the exercise, various drills were carried out, including evacuating people and combating simulated drug smugglers. The latter saw the Champlain acting as a suspicious vessel with the Amatola using its boats to board the vessel, search it and find a stash of ‘illegal drugs’.

Exercise Oxide was last held off Richard’s Bay between 14 September to 2 October two years ago. It allowed both the South African and French Maritime Co-ordination Rescue Centres (MRCC’s) to test their abilities to deal with multi-agency operations.

Expanding on the need for an exercise such as Oxide, the SA Navy website points out there is a clear link between maritime and human security. “France and South Africa share common interests in the southern part of the Indian Ocean and agree on maintaining close defence co-operation. To enhance co-operation and operational inter-operability between South Africa and France and preserve a maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, these nations hold joint exercises such as Oxide.

“The Exercise is scenario based on the theme of ‘Fight against narcotics’. The aim of the exercise is to enhance combat readiness of both military forces in the fight against narcotics in the Indian Ocean.”

Apart from SAS Amatola, other SANDF assets sent to Reunion include a SA Air Force Oryx medium transport helicopter as well as a C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft and a 28 Squadron C-130BZ. Two Mozambican observers are believed to be aboard Amatola.

France was originally scheduled to use the FS Floreal in Exercise Oxide, but she was damaged by a storm in Durban in October and replaced by the B2M vessel Champlain. Other French assets include a CASA CN235 aircraft and Panther helicopter. These flew in formation with a SAAF C-47TP ahead of the exercise.

Nearly 500 French and South African soldiers, sailors and pilots took part in Oxide 2017, with the main portion taking place between 27 November and 6 December.