The SA Navy’s planned deployment to the Mozambique Channel under Operation Copper in February did not take place as scheduled due to technical and manpower problems compounded by Cyclone Idai.
The Valour Class frigate SAS Amatola (F145) was due to carry out a two-week mission in the Mozambique Channel in terms of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) anti-piracy undertaking, but never made it to the operational area.
After taking part in Armed Forces Day activities in the Western Cape, Amatola departed Simon’s Town on 22 February and arrived in Durban on the 25th, but fuel problems saw the frigate spending more time alongside than planned. Problems were apparently regarding the supply and payment of fuel including a short delivery on the requested fuel consignment.
Making matters worse were electronic defects affecting the frigate’s starboard engine on the latter part of the Simons Town/Durban transit, necessitating extra time in port for repair.
The next problem to bedevil the mission came when the assigned SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) medical orderly suffered a close family bereavement and was granted compassionate leave. A request for a replacement was made, but the strict regulations for foreign deployments only saw the new ship’s medic arrive in Durban with Amatola ready to up anchor.
Weather conditions at that time were deteriorating badly due to what was then Tropical Cyclone Idai and the sea state was “very rough”. SA Navy spokesman Commander Greyling van den Berg told defenceWeb this saw instruction given to Amatola to stand by for possible humanitarian assistance in the wake of Idai, downgraded to a cyclone but still with widespread death and destruction in its wake.
“That instruction was changed and Amatola left Durban bound for her home port Simons Town as the SANDF deployed other assets to assist with humanitarian relief in Mozambique,” he said. Amatola sailed back to Simons Town on 19 March.
Among the assets providing humanitarian and disaster relief assistance to Mozambique are SA Air Force A109 and Oryx helicopters and PC-12 and C-212 fixed wing aircraft.
The Amatola’s deployment was due to be the SA Navy’s final Operation Copper mission for the 2018/19 financial year. No other assets were able to go in the vessel’s place.
In recent years senior SA National Defence Force (SANDF) officers, including the country’s top soldier General Solly Shoke and service chiefs, have repeatedly and publicly stated the country’s armed forces are reaching their limits, mainly due to budget constraints. Notwithstanding this, the senior command cadre of the national defence force is on record as saying it will continue to do the best it can with the limited resources at its disposal.