Navy keen to retain offshore patrol skills

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The South African Navy is keen to retain the three Warrior-class (ex Minister class) strike craft as offshore patrol vessels for as long as possible.

“What we are building with those patrol vessels is for the future acquisition of offshore patrol vessels under Project Biro. That is why we must keep those vessels as long as we can when we can transfer crews from those to the new patrol vessels,” Rear Admiral (JG) Bravo Mhlana, South African Navy Director Force Preparation, told defenceWeb.

The three surviving strike craft, of nine originally received in the in the 1970s and 1980s, are being refurbished and converted into offshore patrol vessels by Durban-based Southern African Shipyards. The first vessel, SAS Isaac Dyobha (P1565), arrived in Durban on 11 October. After discharging all her fuel, oils and stores, the vessel was transferred to Southern African Shipyards’ floating dock and mounted on specially constructed cradles, where refurbishment began.

The next vessel to undergo refurbishment is SAS Makhanda (P1569), which left Simon’s Town under tow on 3 November. Finally SAS Galeshewe (P1567) is due to arrive in Durban in mid-December. The Galeshewe has just left Simon’s Town to commence a patrol up the east coast.

Southern African Shipyards told defenceWeb that the main work being performed on the vessels related to electrical, mechanical and general hull maintenance and involved refurbishment, replacement and repainting.

Since the commissioning of the four Valour-class frigates in 2004/5, both Isaac Dyobha and Galeshewe have been used in the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) role. With the addition of SAS Makhanda, Mhlana explained that the three vessels allow the Navy “to beef up on the patrol side.”

Another motive for refurbishing the vessels is to allow them to be used in the training role. “To ensure our sailors get maximum exposure, we are also going to use those vessels for the young recruits that we receive from (naval training base) SAS Saldanha where we promote a seagoing culture,” Mhlana said.

Fixing these vessels, Mhlana says, will allow the young sailors to have the opportunity to go to sea in addition to the vessels conducting patrols. As the Navy is manning the fisheries research and patrol vessels on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), there will be further sea-trained personnel to transfer to the OPV fleet once the DAFF fleet is returned.

All weapons are removed in Simon’s Town prior to the vessels leaving for refurbishment in Durban. However, the Navy intends to retain the currently fitted weapons when used in the OPV role. This includes one OTO Melara 76mm/62 naval gun, two 20 mm cannon and two 12.7 mm machine guns.

The refurbishment project is expected to be completed by the end of March 2013. Once refurbished, the three vessels will remain in Durban, based at the re-established Durban Naval Base at Salisbury Island (situated inside Durban Harbour).