Operation Copper’s time almost up


South Africa’s current three year anti-piracy commitment in the Mozambique Channel, Operation Copper, is due to end in six weeks’ time with no word yet on extending the mission.

The Valour Class frigate SAS Spioenkop is currently on duty and will depart for Simon’s town on March 31. This is the when the edict issued by President Jacob Zuma, Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), last April extending South Africa’s sole active counter-piracy operation ends.

SA Navy Fleet media liaison officer, Commander Adrian Dutton, said all four frigates – SAS Amatola, SAs Isandlwana, SAS Mendi and SAS Spioenkop – as well as the Navy’s replenishment vessel, SAS Drakensberg, and two of it its offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), SAS Galeshewe and SAS Isaac Dyobha, have done time on station in the Mozambique Channel.

These platforms have been supported by elements of the SA Air Force, notably a 35 Squadron C-47TP based at Pemba in Mozambique, as well as Oryx helicopters from the Durban, Hoedspruit and Zwartkop air force bases.

Drakensberg is the only SA Navy vessel to have been involved in a pirate incident when she was requested to take up a stopper position by the European Union Naval Force to prevent a suspected pirate ship from escaping EU pursuit.
“The frigates and Drakensberg have been on station an average of three months at a time while the OPVs on station time has been around the two month mark,” Dutton said.

At the time of publication there was no clarity on whether South Africa would extend its memorandum of understanding with Southern African Development community (SADC) members, Mozambique and Tanzania, to maintain the anti-piracy watch.

With piracy off the east coast of Africa showing a downward trend and South Africa having entered into an agreement with Angola and Namibia for protection maritime resources in the Benguela Current, some military watchers are of the opinion South African naval assets could be better deployed off the continent’s west coast.

Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said the immediate issue would be to establish “exactly what is going on in this area” to allow for a coherent protection strategy to be developed.
“As regards protection of the maritime resources off the west coast the essential part will be to patrol. You cannot control what you do not patrol. This is where, with the partial exception of Namibia, all three countries fall down.
“Namibia could have coastal capability but lacks deep sea capability and patrol aircraft. Angola has nothing and South Africa has too little.
“South Africa certainly cannot at present do what it should to make the Benguela Current Convention (BCC) work, any more than it has the capability to meet its SASAR (South African Search and Rescue Organisation) commitments,” he said.

Speaking after the signing of the Benguela Current Convention last March, Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, then senior Navy media liaison officer, said the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) would assist other government departments “where possible and dependent on any tasking issued by the Department of Defence and Military Veterans”.

Regarding hydrographic surveys to determine exactly what the situation of specific resources in the Benguela current area were concerned, he pointed out South Africa has an international obligation in respect of hydrographic services for the area in question and all efforts will be made to service this obligation on request, probably from the South African Department of Environment Affairs.