Unchecked insurgent activity in Mozambican waters is one indication that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is unable to effectively manage its maritime spaces, according to South African Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane.
Hlongwane was speaking at the Maritime Security Conference 2021 in early June. “Within SADC, in particular, the ability of states to respond to maritime insecurity is severely compromised due to resource challenges such as budgetary constraints, inadequate training, lack of skills as well as ageing equipment and mass obsolescence. As a result, effective and efficient governance of maritime space remains a significant challenge to maritime security within the subregion,” he said.
“Recent research suggests that issues of maritime security continue to be subordinate to issues of landward security, more so on the African continent where resource allocation is often prioritised around landward activities rather than those at sea.”
Hlongwane cited two recent incidents that bring maritime security into sharp relief. “These two events essentially refocused the international community’s attention on not only the importance of maritime security but the deleterious impact of maritime insecurity. The first event is the blockage of the Suez Canal by the…container ship Ever Given. Llody’s List estimated the cost of worldwide trade was $400 million per hour or $6.7 million per minute.”
As a result of the six-day blockage in March, a number of vessels diverted around the Cape sea route, necessitating transit through the Mozambique Channel. “This brings me to the second event I wish to reflect on,” Hlongwane said. “At the same time that events were unfolding in the Suez Canal, the security situation was rapidly unravelling in Mozambique. The insurgency in northern Mozambique around Cabo Delgado, which initially erupted in 2017, saw a marked upsurge in recent months. Its spillover into the maritime domain could have had a deleterious impact on the continued security of sea lines of communication.
“We know that the sea is often used as a mode of transport of both the insurgent fighters as well as illicit trades such as weapons and drugs. To resource the land operations of the so called violent non-state actors we also know that ports and shipping are often targeted for further financial gains. Indeed a number of incidents such as the seizure of the port of Mocimboa da Praia last year, so called island hopping attacks and short term occupations in the archipelagos as well as the most recent events unfolding in and around Palma and Pemba are clear indications of the spillover into the maritime domain.
“We cannot ignore the impact this has on maritime security, not only for Mozambique but for the subregion as well as for South Africa,” Hlongwane said.
He added that the Stable Seas maritime index suggests that the SADC is unable to effectively manage its maritime spaces or regulate activities, and even though Mozambique has taken some proactive measures to respond to the insurgency spillover at sea, violent non-state actors are operating with near impunity by exploiting the gaps in maritime governance and awareness of activities within their maritime spaces.
Maritime insecurity is further exacerbated by the lack of reliable and actional knowledge and information. However, “positive strides have been made in maritime domain awareness such as the establishment of maritime domain awareness centres as well as the successful establishment of the oceans and coastal information management systems. In addition, a number of SADC member states have signed agreements to establish maritime domain awareness centres (MDACs). However, the critical link between these MDACs and the sharing and fusion of data remains elusive.”
The SADC is in advanced stages of renewing its own maritime security strategy, Hlongwane said, after originally signing the strategy document in November 2011.
“Within the South African context arguably the launch of Operation Phakisa has acted as the fulcrum to a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to maritime security. However, while it is clear that maritime security has gained renewed attention on the African continent, the phenomenon of sea blindness has not been completely eradicated.”
In South Africa, Hlongwane said the ability of the South African Navy to conduct tasks within its secondary roles will be significantly enhanced by Project Biro and Project Hotel. “The first multi mission inshore patrol vessel, one of three under Project Biro, was launched on the 25th of March this year and systems integration is progressing well. There has also been steady progress made on the construction of the hydrographic survey vessel and its three survey motor boats have been completed under Project Hotel.”
Hlongwane concluded his presentation by saying that maritime security is not only the business of the South African Navy or any one entity but of multiple entities to ensure South Africa upholds the freedom of the seas.