The 2015/16 financial year saw the SA Navy spend 10 710 hours at sea – just over 10% less than the targeted twelve thousand, according to the latest Department of Defence annual report.
No breakdown of vessels is give, nor is any information supplied about voyages undertaken. The annual report states the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) conducted “ordered defence commitments in accordance with government policy and strategy” and the Navy “managed to comply fully with joint force employment requirements” which presumably include the Operation Copper counter-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel.
In the annual report defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that “since the deployment of Naval assets in the Mozambique Channel no further incidences of piracy were reported. We are mindful of the developing challenges in the Gulf of Guinea and have thus entered into discussions with the Namibian and Angolan governments to pursue joint maritime patrols along the West Coast.”
The Navy also continued “to engage in international maritime co-operation to ensure the enhancement of regional defence co-operation to comply with the national political direction and foreign policy”.
Not logging all targeted number of sea-hours is put down to “unavailability of vessels as a result of human resources constraints and limited dockyard capacity”.
In its 2014/15 annual report, the Department of Defence noted that the SA Navy spent 8 951 hours at sea against the targeted number of 12 000 due to the unavailability of vessels that were delayed in maintenance cycles. The figure of 12 00 targeted hours “is based on the historical performance of the maritime defence programme,” the DoD said.
In terms of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) maritime defence programme, the Navy is tasked with defending and protecting South Africa and its maritime zones via five different provisions per annual operational cycle.
These are, according to the report: a surface combat and patrol capability of three frigates, one combat support vessel, two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs); a sub-surface combat capability of two submarines; a mine warfare capability of two vessels to ensure safe access to harbours and to provide mine clearance, if and where required; a maritime reaction squadron (MRS) capability, comprising an operational boat, diving and naval reaction divisions; and a hydrographic survey capability to ensure safe navigation.
The Navy currently has three OPV’s, all converted Warrior Class strikecraft. Until such time as Armscor issues tender approval for three each of IPV and OPV to be built to specifications set by the Nay in conjunction with Armscor, it cannot properly fulfil this part of the maritime defence programme. This saw the Combat support vessel, SAS Drakensberg, deployed earlier this year to support Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) vessels in apprehending Chinese trawlers fishing illegally in South African territorial waters. The closing date for tender submissions for Project Biro (to build and supply three each of IPVs and OPVs) was more than a year ago and submissions are still being evaluated by the government’s defence and security acquisition agency.
The SA Navy is also seeking a hydrographic survey vessel under Project Hotel. The annual report said a hydrographic bill was approved by the Council on Defence of 19 April 2016 and Defence Legal Advisors are attempting to finalise the socioeconomic impact assessment system, after which it will forward the draft Bill to the relevant cluster committees. The purpose of the bill is to “bring about safe and secured navigation within the maritime zone of South Africa.”
Some of the SA Navy’s highlights during the last financial year included the ‘escalation’ of its presence in Durban, with a sod turning ceremony in December 2015 to start process of turning the Durban naval station into a naval base. The Navy also took delivery of new tugs from Damen Shipyards Cape Town and took part in Exercise Oxide in September/October 2015 with France and Exercise Ibsamar with India and Brazil in February/March 2016.