The extension of the Operation Copper maritime patrol mission in the Mozambique Channel for another year will cost the South African National Defence Force R154 million.
This is according to a letter from President Cyril Ramaphosa informing the National Assembly of the extension of Operation Copper, from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.
The letter, dated 25 March, said that 200 members of the SANDF were employed to deter and prevent piracy in the Mozambique channel. “Due to the fact that maritime piracy remains a threat to all countries sharing borders with Western Indian Ocean, the employed members of SANDF will continue deterring and preventing piracy in the Mozambique channel.”
“The expenditure expected to be incurred for this deployment amounts to R 154 000 000,” Ramaphosa stated. The Operation Copper employment from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, in comparison, was budgeted as R127 million.
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 South African Navy has been involved in Operation Copper since the SAS Mendi commenced patrols in January 2011. An operational pause was undertaken in July 2012 as the use of the frigates “was proving costly and expensive.” It was then decided to introduce the Warrior-class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) into Operation Copper. Since then, deployment duties have rotated between the frigates and the OPVs. The replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg has also been sent to patrol for pirates, and assisted European warships in apprehending seven Somali pirates in early 2012.
The Drakensberg did an Operation Copper tasking in July 2019. In April this year, the offshore patrol vessel SAS Makhanda was tasked with conducting sea patrols from Durban to Ponta do Ouro (the Mozambique/South Africa) border, primarily to ensure South Africa’s territorial waters are secure and enforce coronavirus lockdown regulations. The deployment also enhances sea route protection, specifically the busy Mozambique Channel/Indian Ocean route, which carries large volumes of cargo to and from South Africa.
Although Indian Ocean piracy has dropped off in recent years and shifted to West Africa, Mozambique’s navy is reported as saying the Operation Copper patrols have seen maritime crime, particularly illegal fishing, decrease substantially in the region.