An insight into South Africa’s counter-piracy operation


In a candid assessment of South Africa’s commitment to a continued presence in the Mozambique Channel as a deterrent to piracy, an SA Navy Commander maintains it is not necessary for South Africa to be actively fighting the piracy threat.

Commander Dieter Jones, now Officer Commanding Naval Base Durban and formerly Officer Commanding SAS Isaac Dyobha, adds the pertinent rider that “given the transnational nature of the crime (piracy) and the non-discriminatory nature of its effect, it is of utmost importance that all States, littoral and landlocked, become involved, acknowledge a shared responsibility and tackle the crime as a collective”.

He was addressing a Military Attaches Advisory Group (MAAG) meeting in Pretoria and told those present that “combined maritime forces must continue to conduct joint counter-piracy operations, improve inter-agency efforts and foster multi-national co-operation to remove the threat of maritime insecurity and reinforce regional stability and security”.

A comprehensive approach such as this and the empowerment of Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries will prevent further piracy attacks, reduce drug and human trafficking, eradicate modern day slavery of women and children, smuggling of ivory and heroin and reduce illegal plundering of ocean resources.

At an operational level the SA Navy has benefitted from Operation Copper, as the tri-national counter-piracy tasking is called, in any number of ways.

These include portraying a positive image of the Navy and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF); improving sailors’ operating competencies; junior members have and are being exposed to a rigorous maritime environment and gain practical hours on running equipment, this expedites seagoing qualifications; capacity building is improved; cross-training and inter-operability is also improved as are technical and seamanship skills.

Jones also points to good Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) established for boarding operations and high aviation standards achieved. This is with regard to the utilisation of SA Air Force (SAAF) Super Lynx maritime helicopters and C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft.

He also told attaches not to forget the operational success of SAS Drakensberg. The Navy supply and replenishment vessel was involved in an anti-piracy incident in April 2012 when she was requested to take up a stopper position by the EU Naval Force to prevent a suspected pirate ship escaping EU pursuit.
“There are certainly operational benefits in executing operational deployments as indicated. These could be extended to the SADC region as soon as SADC states assumes responsibility for maritime security in the region and participate in comprehensive combined maritime security efforts,” he said.

On the other side of the ledger Jones said operational limitations included the legal implications of capturing pirates – “in most cases the catch, disarm and release policy applies”.

He also pointed to technical logistic support as a limitation to deployments such as Operation Copper with “minimal support and general ship repair techniques primitive in our region”.

Another limitation was in port where availability of quay space, tugs and essential port facilities were all “a challenge”.
“Commercial ports generate revenue and have little interest in military operations. This could severely affect the operational cycles of vessels on patrol. Tighter national legislation and meaningful Memoranda of Understanding between states in the region must receive high priority so that traditional selfish interests are replaced with the realisation that only a collaborative approach will be beneficial to all,” he said.

Operation Copper started in 2012 and the currently deployment cycle is set to finish on March 31 this year as per President Jacob Zuma’s office.