Exercise Oxide held off Pemba

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The Mozambique news agency Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (AIM) reports that France and South Africa last week held a joint military exercises in the Mozambique Channel as part of the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Quoting sources in the French Embassy, the report said the exercises involved the French Navy Floreal-class light surveillance frigate FS Nivose and South African frigate SAS Mendi as well as Mozambican personnel. The exercise was code-named “Oxide.” Mendi is in the region as part of Operation Copper.

The exercise commenced Monday after the French ship docked in the northern Mozambique port of Pemba, which is being used by the South African Navy as a forward base for its own anti-pirate patrol that was set up at the request of Mozambique and Tanzania earlier this year.

A French source says the two ships were alerted to a suspected pirate sighting during the exercise, but it turned out to be a bona fide fishing vessel. A Douglas C47TP patrol aircraft, the Eurocopter Panther helicopter board the Nivose and the AgustaWestland SuperLynx aboard the Mendi were scrambled.

South Africa and France conduct bi-annual naval exercises but this year is the first to involve the Mozambique Navy. According to the French Embassy in Maputo “the theme of this year’s exercise is the monitoring of the Mozambique Channel in the context of the fight against piracy.” The exercises were also to promote cooperation between the three navies, the exchange of information and training of military personnel.

A number of attacks against ships have been made by pirates in the approaches to the Mozambique Channel including the seizure of the Mozambique fishing vessel Vega 5 last December, an incident that led directly to South Africa committing naval and air force assets to guarding the channel against further incursions by pirates, the Ports and Ships website added. More recently pirates have attacked several ships and an oil rig off the coast of Tanzania in the approaches to the channel.

Last year’s edition of Oxide, set down for Reunion in November, was cancelled due to a tight budget, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu noted in May in a written answer to a parliamentary question asked by Congress of the People Member of Parliament LJ Tolo.

In her answer, Sisulu said the Department of Defence Strategic Business Plan for the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2013 foresaw 21 joint interdepartmental and multinational military force preparation exercises during that period.
“The eight exercises that were planned for the period 2010/11 were conducted within the financial constraints of the Department of Defence budget.” The two exercises cancelled “due to budgetary constraints by the foreign participants” were Oxide,, and Transoceanic that should have taken place in August 2010. Oxide is a bi-annual air, land and sea exercise involving French forces based in the Mascarene island. The next event was scheduled for September next year. Transoceanic is an annual command post exercise held in August to practice naval control and guidance of shipping (NCAGS).