There is a still a long way to go before any permanent naval vessel presence re-establishes itself in Durban.
SA Navy Chief Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu earlier this year indicated the former home of what was the strikecraft flotilla would again be brought into service as a fully operational naval base. He said the Salisbury Island site would become a permanent home to the offshore patrol vessels (OPV) in the Navy fleet.
One of the biggest problems is suitable accommodation for naval personnel at the proposed base. “Proposed” because at present the Navy in Durban is accommodated at a naval station and this can only be changed to a full naval base once certain functions, including accommodation, are in place Commander Eugene Khumalo of the Navy Public Relations Department said.
Ministerial authority is the final hurdle to be cleared before the existing naval station can be upgrade to base status and this is dependent on factors such as vessel handling and maintenance capacity as well as accommodation.
“Work is currently underway on workshops and other facilities at Naval Station Durban to support more regular port calls to Durban by SAN vessels as a result of an increase in operations along the East Coast,” he said.
The increase is primarily as a result of the ongoing counter-piracy tasking, Operation Copper. This sees one SAN platform deployed to the Mozambique Channel as part of a joint Mozambican/South African/Tanzanian effort to stop piracy along the continental east coast. To date the Navy has deployed Valour Class frigates, the replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg and one of the strikecraft refurbished to OPV status to the busy sea lane to deter piracy.
Apart from bringing back the workshops and associated ships’ maintenance facilities to full operation at Salisbury Island the Navy is liaising with other Department of Defence entities, primarily the Chief of Logistics and, to a lesser extent, the Department of Public Works, in efforts to secure suitable accommodation.
When the Navy departed Durban its housing facilities were mostly taken over the elements of the SA Army. With the landward arm of service still having a presence in the east coast harbour city accommodation for married naval personnel is acknowledged as being a problem area.
The situation is somewhat different as regards single accommodation with refurbishment work on existing single quarters currently underway.
Khumalo sums up the situation by saying: “There is ongoing work in Durban to ensure the current OPVs can be effectively supported while alongside.
“The intention is that when the new OPVs are acquired, the Durban facilities will also be able to fully support them. So it is a concurrent process that is underway.”
As to the number of naval personnel that will eventually call Durban home he cannot be specific – “it will be dependent on the type of platforms acquired and the support personnel, apart from ships’ crews, the new vessels will require”.