No first quarter Op Copper deployment this year


With the end of 2020’s first quarter only days away, it’s apparent there will not be a SA Navy Operation Copper deployment as previously intimated.

And with SA National Defence Force (SANDF) exercises and operations generally on hold or cancelled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus there is zero information as to when and if there will be another anti-piracy deployment to the Mozambique Channel.

Operation Copper is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) initiated and approved tasking to prevent piracy and crime at sea in the busy shipping lane east of the sub-continent. South Africa is the lead nation providing maritime and limited airborne platforms with Mozambican military personnel aboard whichever SA Navy platform is on station.

The SA Navy supply and replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg (A301) did an Operation Copper tasking in July last year. The tasking planned for the first quarter of this year would have been the first in seven or eight months.

Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman believes the Mozambique Channel deployment should continue. He maintains the decrease in piracy off Africa’s east coast is no reason to stop as there are other security aspects in Mozambique deserving of attention. These include the increasing presence of Islamic militants in the north and protection of a sea lane that carries a large percentage of South Africa’s fuel needs.

These, combined with valuable time at sea and training, make the taskings better than “simply sailing up and down”.

“When on an Op Copper deployment, ships actually stop and interrogate suspect ships and sometimes board them. They check when people are spotted ashore where there should not be anyone and conduct shore patrols with Mozambican troops.

“There is a whole spectrum of useful practical experience being gained, ships’ companies are kept interested in their profession and relationships are developed with local forces and people.

“The value of continued maritime patrols in the Mozambique Channel, to my mind, is reason enough for the SA Navy to bill the Joint Operations Division for the patrols. That they are used for training as well is common sense.

“The same would apply in respect of a patrol to Marion Island or even in home waters – a patrol is a patrol and is part of the operational purpose of the Navy.

“In reality purely Navy operations should not be part of the CJOps portfolio but should be conducted under a naval operations budget. When the Joint Ops division was established it took its mandate much further than envisaged originally. It is also important to bear in mind the Navy carries the cost of having the capability in the first place and, robbed of this opportunity to put in sea time – after all it has hardly any funds of its own – its ships would not be effective when one day Joint Ops needs them for combat or a potential combat task,” Heitman said.