Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman is a firm believer in the dictum “you cannot control what you can’t patrol” and to this end maintains SA Navy deployments to the Mozambique Channel should continue.
His observation comes at a time when the maritime service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is preparing a platform for a stint in the waterway which carries much of South Africa’s seaborne goods and services.
Most of South Africa’s imported oil and most of its trade with East Africa, the Mediterranean, the Gulf, Pakistan and the western seaboard of India moves through the Mozambique Channel, as does trade to countries further east moving through Maputo or Durban he told defenceWeb.
A positive of a maritime presence in the Indian Ocean waterway is the reported comment by the chief of the Mozambique Navy. He apparently told his South African counterparts SA Navy patrols in the northern reaches of the Mozambique Channel had seen a “remarkable drop” in maritime crime including illegal fishing, smuggling and people trafficking.
In general terms Heitman said patrols are “a bit like the bobby on the beat”.
“As long as there is a ship on station, nothing much is likely to happen. Once there are no longer patrols, things open up for potential activity by various bad guys.
“Somali piracy is down for a combination of reasons: fewer safe places from which to operate as much of the coast is now policed to some extent; a cumulative effect of patrols – and arrests – over several years making the business of piracy less attractive; and the employment of armed protection parties aboard ships also made the piracy business more dangerous.
“I am not convinced there might not be a resurgence should patrols off Somalia be stopped,” he said in response to a recent Dryad Global report. The report indicated extra security for Indian Ocean shipping was no longer justified as piracy dropped significantly.
Another factor which should be taken into account particularly when it comes Southern African Development Community (SADC) thinking and planning is the “influence if not the presence of Islamic State in northern Mozambique and that guerrilla, terrorist and criminal groups learn from each other”.
“One needs to consider the potential risk of maritime terrorism/guerrilla attacks such as that against the tanker Limburg off Yemen and attacks on offshore oil platforms in Nigerian waters. Such an attack would perhaps not have immediate direct impact on South Africa but certainly will have an indirect impact as it is in South Africa’s interests our neighbours be as prosperous and stable as possible so we can sell more of our manufactured goods,” Heitman said.