After months of preparation, the SA Navy Valour Class frigate, SAS Spioenkop (F147), has set sail on a 9 000 km (4 900 nm) voyage to the Indian subcontinent to partake in the Indian International Fleet Review and Exercise Ibsamar V.
Under the command of Captain (Navy) Mike Boucher, Spioenkop departed Naval Base Simon’s Town on Saturday 16 January to loud cheers and clapping from family and friends of the crew, who will be away for two and a half months.
Apart from the 181 ship’s crew, the frigate will also have a Super Lynx maritime helicopter from 22 Squadron embarked, together with two aircrew and seven groundcrew. A further ten members of 4 Special Forces Regiment (Langebaan) and members of the SA Military Health Services are aboard.
En route to India, Spioenkop will transit via Mauritius where she will conduct a port call at Port Louis. The South African Navy representative will arrive at the Indian east coast city of Visakhapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh on 3 February to participate in the International Fleet Review.
Over 100 warships and submarines from 60 countries are expected to partake in the naval event which will be held on 6 February. Visakhapatnam is headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy.
Following her participation in the International Fleet Review and ancillary events, Spioenkop will depart Visakhapatnam and head for Goa on the west coast of India in order to participate in Exercise Ibsamar V. This trip around the Indian subcontinent will be via Sri Lanka. Her port call in Sri Lanka is of historic significance as the last time a South African Navy ship visited Sri Lanka was in 1948.
Exercise Ibsamar V will take place in Goa. It is a bi-annual and Multinational Maritime Exercise held between India, Brazil and South Africa. Normally hosted by South Africa (situated midway between Brazil and India), this year’s iteration of the exercise will be hosted by India for the first time as it will coincide with the International Fleet Review. Spioenkop will arrive at Goa on 19 February to commence with exercise activities.
Speaking to defenceWeb shortly before departure, Captain Boucher noted the importance of exercising with foreign navies.
“The exercises not only gives us the opportunity to enhance co-operability, but also to check standards to make sure that we are operating at a high standard,” Boucher said, “And of course, it helps foster closer relationships through military exercises between various participating countries.”
The SA Navy only participates on a few multinational exercises at such a high level, including exercises Ibsamar, Atlasur and Good Hope.
Explaining what could be expected, Boucher says: “Depending on the scenario that is created, we do the full scope of maritime benign war constabulary type of exercises. So, depending on how the exercise is scripted, it could be practising humanitarian aid, disaster relief, moving to the full scope of naval exercises. We do extensive and quite complex anti-submarine, anti-air warfare, anti-surface exercises which is more your conventional war orientated exercises.”
Departing Goa on 29 February, Spioenkop will return to South Africa via Tanzania to conduct her port call in Dar es Salaam. Her final port call will be in Madagascar at the port of Diego Suarez before arriving in Simon’s Town on 26 March.
The Brazilian Patrol boat BNS Amazonas was recently in Cape Town, but due to her slower speed, departed for India on 11 January. Boucher hopes to meet up with Amazonas near Mauritius. “The intention is to try and meet up with her and conduct non-delaying exercises,” Boucher said.
Spioenkop is no stranger to Asia, having conducted a three month, six-country visit to the Far East, including China, during 2008. She has also participated in various trips up the west coast of Africa and on Operation Copper anti-piracy missions in the Mozambique Channel.
As for the crew, everyone was very excited about the trip. Sub Lieutenant Gilian Marlow (25) joined the Navy in 2010 and this is her first time overseas. “I feel very excited, thinking of all the places we’re going to see. Obviously I’m going to miss people at home, my boyfriend, my family,” she said.
Someone who has undertaken in many trips is Spioenkop’s Operations officer, Lieutenant Commander Thabo Tefo. “You get to learn a lot, especially when it comes to different cultures and the way of doing things,” he said. “We also get to create networks with people from other countries.”
However, this voyage will be bitter-sweet for him, as it will be his last trip before he leaves the ship’s company for a new shore position.
Boucher himself is also excited, being the first time he is visiting India. “The ship’s company and I will be proudly representing South Africa in front of the President of India and we will pay him the necessary compliments. We will proudly take our place amongst the international navies of the world,” he concluded.