South Africa’s shipbuilding sector will be focused on Simon’s Town for the next three days while an Armscor arranged bidders’ conference for in- and offshore patrol vessels for the Navy is underway.
The acquisition of the six new vessels – three of each type – is set to reach tender stage this year and will provide a major fill-up for local shipyards, now decreed a strategic sector of economic activity.
The acquisition of the new platforms for the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will, as per the Project Biro recommendations, see them built at a local shipyard. With a day to go before interested parties gather in Simon’s Town, the country’s naval capital, Armscor was keeping its cards close to the chest on attendees.
Lulu Mzili, Armscor General Manager: Marketing And Business Development, told defenceWeb the state’s defence and security acquisition agency was “not aware” of how many companies would attend the bidders’ conference.
Talk in the shipbuilding sector as well as among navy watchers is that at least some South African shipyards will be teaming with foreign partners in attempts to come out on top in the tender race for the new platforms. Mzili said she was “unaware” of how many South African companies are involved in Project Biro.
The Navy is currently using three of its Warrior Class strikecraft as OPVs following conversion work done locally. Plans to convert a fourth strikecraft, SAS Adam Kok, into an OPV appear to have been shelved and the Navy will make do with the three currently in service until the new vessels are ready to go to sea.
Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Bravo Mhlana, last week hinted the Adam Kok conversion would not go ahead allowing much-needed naval resources to be better utilised in keeping the existing three OPVs operational until the arrival of the new platforms in about three years’ time.
The OPVs have become the go-to platforms for Operation Copper, the tri-nation SADC anti-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel led by South Africa. When it first started in 2011 the Valour Class frigate, SAS Mendi, was the first vessel to be deployed on this duty. Other Valour Class frigates have also been on station in the Channel as has SAS Drakensberg, the Navy’s supply vessel.
SAS Isaac Dyobha is currently on station off the coast of Mozambique. The third SAN OPV, SAS Makhanda, has also been deployed on the anti-piracy tasking.
The addition of the in- and offshore patrol vessels to the Navy fleet is in line with President’s Zuma’s plans to boost the ocean economy. For this to be successful the Navy will undertake the protection role, keeping, fish and other maritime resource poachers, away from South Africa’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).