Franco-South African maritime exercise underway

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The biennial maritime Exercise Oxide between South Africa and France commenced on Thursday 17 November with the arrival of Reunion-based French patrol ship Le Malin (P701) in Naval Base Simon’s Town.

Sharing a maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) border, France and South Africa share common objectives and responsibilities in the southern area of the Indian Ocean. The aim of the exercise is to enhance co-operation and operational interoperability between the two forces.

This year’s iteration, taking place around the False Bay area and the West Coast of the Western Cape, will end on 28 November. The exercise will comprise of various maritime exercises, the main objective being search and rescue. Other objectives include surveillance, disaster relief, hostage negotiations and releases.

Joint Task Force Commander, Captain (SAN) NK Goboza, explained that the objective for this year is to conduct joint Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises “which is a current challenge to the maritime environment whereby we may be tasked to go and rescue a vessel that has hostages onboard.”

To this end, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) will be providing a vessel to act as a target for the exercise.

Goboza noted that continuously exercising together would make sure that were an incident to happen, both navies were “already in sync in terms of tactics, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and communications, we know who to call and what to do.”

The French Defence Attaché, Captain (Navy) AL De Lapeyriere, confirmed that this exercise afforded both nations the ability to test its interoperability as both nations face the same maritime issues.

“South Africa is like France, a nation of the Indian Ocean. (South Africa) is the most important partner that we have in the southern Indian Ocean,” De Lapeyriere explained. “We share with South Africa a common area of interest, but also one geographical area of interest, which is the southern Indian Ocean close to the EEZ of the French island Crozet and the South African islands of Prince Edward and Marion.”

De Lapeyriere continued: “We also share the fact that we are the only nations in the area to have a strong Navy with frigates with high level capabilities. Seen from France, South Africa is a very important partner (with whom) we want to improve our relations.”

Every year, up to six port visits are conducted by French navy patrol vessels. During the Covid-19 lockdown period, South Africa continued to provide replenishment facilities to French patrol vessels, allowing them to greatly extend their range into the southern Indian Ocean.

Exercise Oxide will be the second international exercise for SAS King Sekhukhune I (P1571), the South African Navy’s newly delivered MMIPV (Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessel). Still undergoing Operational Testing and Evaluation (OTE), SAS King Sekhukhune I participated in Exercise Ibsamar with India last month.

Commander Jabulani Mashamba, Officer Commanding of the new MMIPV, says that the exercise is aimed at exchanging ideas, sharing experiences, and improving SOPs in terms of Military Police and the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the border sectors and patrolling the maritime environment.

This sentiment was echoed by Lieutenant Commander Paul Durand, Officer Commanding Le Malin, who said that he was “glad to be in the Joint Task Force” and noted that each country was keen to learn how the other worked.

The Exercise Director is Colonel Zanele Mahlangu, whose role is to oversee that the objectives are achieved by both France and South Africa. This is not her first naval exercise, as she was the Deputy Exercise Director for Exercise Ibsamar in 2018.

Other parties involved in the exercise are the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) of the SA Navy, members from the South African Police Services and the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre. The South African Air Force has been requested to provide a maritime patrol aircraft.

Exercise Oxide has taken place every second year for the past 25 years, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the exercise had to be cancelled in 2020.

The next iteration of the exercise will be hosted by France and take place in Reunion.