Exercise Good Hope VIII strengthens South African-German maritime cooperation

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Exercise Good Hope VIII, the latest instalment of the bi-national maritime exercise between the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the German Navy, recently concluded in Saldanha on the Cape West Coast.

The combined Joint Exercise was held from 21 January to 6 February and was more modest than previous editions in scale due to real-world commitments affecting the German Navy’s ability to send vessels to South Africa and the South African Navy facing challenges in providing vessels.

The German contingent consisted of a Boarding Company from the German Navy Sea Battalion based in Eckernfoerde. This company, responsible for protecting German warships; personnel recovery; maritime interdiction operations; and military evacuation operations, comprises infantry-trained soldiers who undergo a nine-month training cycle to qualify as boarding soldiers. They arrived and departed South Africa aboard a German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Airbus A400M strategic airlifter.

The South African contingent was primary represented by the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) including the Operational Boat Element, Navy divers, 13 Provost of the Military Police, and the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).

Exercise objectives included the establishment of a forward operating base, visit, board, search and seizure operations, search and rescue, diving operations, long range navigation patrols, casualty evacuations as well as command and control.

The importance of conducting regular international exercises was highlighted by Combined Joint Task Force Commander Captain (SA Navy) CJ McKenzie, who remarked that although the South African and German doctrine and standard operating procedures are different, “we always try to find common ground in order to achieve the operational objective.”

“Importantly,” he said, “participants bonded and made long lasting friendships and I hope we imparted certain knowledge and skills.”

Deputy Chief Joint Operations, Major General Mzayifani Innocent Buthelezi, acknowledged logistical challenges, but stressed that “no exercise or operation…can be executed without such challenges. What’s important is how the Commanders tackle these challenges and ensure success.”

Based on the capability demonstration conducted at SAS Saldanha on 2 February, “I can confidently say that the goals and objectives that were agreed upon have been achieved,” Buthelezi concluded.

Andreas Peschke, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to South Africa, expressed Germany’s interest in conducting maritime exercises at regular intervals to build upon the experiences gained in each exercise.

“It is very important, strategically, that we increase our cooperation in this area,” Peschke said.

The capability demonstration commenced with a display of the skill of coxswains of the Operational Boat Element from the Maritime Reaction Squadron, highlighting the agility of the Namacurra Harbour Patrol Boat as they performed high-speed manoeuvres.

The next display demonstrated the execution of high-speed jumps and recovery from 7 metre Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats performed by SA Navy clearance divers, responsible for the execution of underwater damage control, basic ship repair tasks, submarine rescue, underwater explosives ordnance disposal as well as air sea rescue.

Thereafter, a small craft with ‘pirates’ onboard was seen entering the port. The pirates swiftly boarded a ferry, overwhelming the crew. After a distress call by the crew onboard, a boarding team was called upon to intervene. The boarding teams from the German Sea Battalion breached the pirates’ defences, engaging in a fierce (loud!) confrontation to restore order and secure the vessel.

A building assault in a port environment by a section of the Maritime Reaction Squadron and a member from 13 Provost of the Military Police was called upon as a result of a threat that emerged within a port facility. A section was tasked with neutralizing the assailants and securing the building. Arriving at the port aboard two Namacurra craft, the section moved in close formation and breached the building, employing room-clearing techniques to swiftly and efficiently neutralize the threat.

The demonstration concluded with a sail past of two Namacurra boats (with crew all dressed up and manning weapons), followed by a RHIB with six German Boarding Team members fully dressed, followed by a RHIB with four embarked divers in wetsuits and lastly a Namacurra with six MRS members.