The South African Navy may well retain control over the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF’s) patrol ships, after the original one-year agreement comes to a close on April 1.
Previous Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and DAFF Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson early last year signed a memorandum of understanding that saw control, command and maintenance of the seven-strong fleet of fisheries inspection and maritime patrol vessels handed to the South African Navy for a one year period.
With that year fast coming to an end and a lot of it having been spent on making the DAFF ships seaworthy, insiders feel Sisulu’s suggestion to extend the agreement makes sense. The alternative is for another operator being sought via a public tender process.
Speaking at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in Cape Town last April, Sisulu intimated the maritime arm of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) could continue to manage the DAFF ships for longer than a year “if the arrangement with the Navy works out”.
“In terms of the memorandum of understanding we’ve signed with the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries we’re assisting them. If it works we might want to continue and if it doesn’t we might want to end the relationship,” Sisulu told a media briefing at the Cape Town symposium.
Responding to requests for information on the seaworthiness of and work done by the DAFF ships, the Navy referred to a statement issued by Rear Admiral (JG) Bravo Mhlana, Director: Force Preparation, late last year.
“While work was being done in respect of repairs, training and readiness inspections, the Navy utilised SAS Umzimkulu, SAS Galashewe and SAS Amatola to undertake the role of fisheries protection vessels and we have now reached a stage where vessels from the DAFF fleet are now able to conduct designated operations safely and successfully under naval command,” he said.
No specific answer was forthcoming on what will happen once the current memorandum of understanding expires.
“We will have to wait for direction on that from both Ministries,” a naval source said on condition of anonymity.
One of the DAFF ships that has come up to scratch in operational terms is the oldest, SAS Africana. She underwent extensive maintenance work and by mid-January had completed three surveys and is currently at sea on a scheduled scientific charter that ends on February 26.
On the fisheries protection side of the equation SAS Victoria Mxenge has completed three patrols with SAS Ruth First also contributing to this aspect of marine resource protection with two patrol voyages logged.
Of the remaining DAFF ships, SAS Lillian Ngoyi underwent a W6 level service this month as her engines had reached the 9 000 hour mark, necessitating a complete overhaul. Mhlana said the work was “extensive and had never before been undertaken on this class of vessel”. There is no indication of how long she will be in harbour.
SAS Ellen Khuzwayo was on the receiving end of a W5 engine overhaul in December and is now fully seaworthy.
SAS Sarah Baartman was docked in mid-December for her Lloyd’s Class inspection, mandatory for non-naval vessels.
SAS Africana, SAS Algoa and SAS Ellen Khuzwayo are fisheries research vessels while SAS Sarah Baartman, SAS Lillian Ngoyi, SAS Victoria Mxenge and SAS Ruth First are patrol vessels.