SAN to set up shop in Richards Bay

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South Africa’s eastern seaboard features prominently in the future of the SA Navy (SAN) with a new base in the offing at the port of Richards Bay.

At the same time the SAN facility in the port of Durban’s Salisbury Island will remain a naval station despite earlier indications it would be upgraded to a full fledged naval base.

The first public inkling of these developments came from now retired SAN Chief, Mosiwa Hlongwane, during the November change of command parade in Simon’s Town where Vice Admiral Monde Lobese was officially installed as new CNavy. Lobese was inaugurated as the senior sailor of the maritime service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in an early November ceremony at the SA Army College in Thaba Tshwane with the change of command parade following weeks later.

Hlongwane told the Martello sports ground parade relocation of NS Durban to the port of Richards Bay was an “ongoing project” with involvement of the SANDF, SAN, Transnet and “other stakeholders”.

Explaining the rationale behind the new base in response to a defenceWeb inquiry, Lobese indicated its roots went as far back as 2011 when tripartite memorandum of understanding (MOU) was entered into between Southern African Development Community (SADC) members Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania. As part of the regional bloc’s maritime security strategy (MSS) it saw the anti-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel – Operation Copper – become reality.

Another MSS objective was to upgrade NS Durban to a naval base which would home port and support patrol vessels and be integral to execution of the SADC MSS along the lower and central east coast of Africa.

This changed in April 2021 when President Cyril Ramaphosa was in Durban for an update from Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPS) on port congestion and establishing the port of Durban as a strategic hub port. “The briefing indicated SAN NB Durban will have to relocate from Salisbury Island to achieve the TNPA master plan,” is how Lobese puts it in his response to defenceWeb.

The national ports authority and the national defence force, with the maritime service in the vanguard, have long engaged on the Durban logistic hub strategy and relocation of the naval facility to the northern KwaZulu-Natal port, part of the uMhlathuze municipality.

The SANDF Military Command Council (MCC) has – in principle – approved the relocation of the SAN Durban facility to Richards Bay as a naval base based on “reciprocal availability of land”.

All told Lobese lists 21 SAN strategic requirements for the new base. They range from antenna and fuel farms to  bulk rations, material and armament depots, maintenance support (to C level including repair), dry docking and synchrolift as well as waterfront services, messes, a “Navy village”, general base support capabilities, military medical facilities and services. Other must haves are aviation, diving, firefighting, and small boat jetty facilities, with ceremonial and recreational facilities also on the list.

As to when the SAN will set up shop in the port of Richards Bay, Lobese told defenceWeb that according to the national ports authority the base will be in service by end 2026.

Naval Station Durban will remain as home port for the patrol squadron, currently only SAS King Sekhukhune I (P1571) with number two of three multi-mission inshore patrol vessels (MMIPVs), SAS Adam Kok (P1572), expected to be added to the fleet inventory this year.

When relocation and re-organisation is complete, the SAN expects a personnel complement of around 140 in Durban with the new Richards Bay base coming in at just under the 890 mark. This includes MMIPC crews as well as uniformed and civilian personnel.

defenceWeb did not ask about the financial implications of the new base and Lobese did not volunteer any information in this regard.