Sea fishery patrols and research is continuing, even as the paperwork to take them into SA Navy service continues.
In a joint commissioning ceremony at the Simon’s Town Naval Base in Cape Town yesterday, research vessel SAS Ellen Khuzwayo,patrol vessels SAS Sarah Baartman, SAS Ruth First and SAS Victoria Mxenge were inducted into the South African Navy. The SAS Africana was commissioned in April this year, while a research vessel Algoa and patrol vessel Lilian Ngoyi and are still to be taken into naval service.
The Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has been experiencing problems with awarding a tender to civilian maritime companies to operate their patrol and research fleet. As a result, an Inter-Ministerial Memorandum of Understanding between DAFF and the Department of Defence and Military Veterans was signed, providing for the SA Navy to take over and perform the shipping management functions of the DAFF vessels with effect from April 1, 2012 for a period of 12 months.
The management of these vessels include crewing/manning, technical management (maintenance and repair), provisioning, bunkering, operation and the accounting of all aspects relating to these functions. The DAFF will maintain functional command of the vessels and all expenses incurred by the SA Navy relating to this function are reimbursed by DAFF on a monthly basis.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz (Flag Officer Fleet) noted that SAS Africana was at sea off the West Coast in the vicinity of the Orange River Mouth on a three week deployment doing acoustic surveys and mid-water trawls.
The importance of putting the DAFF vessels to sea was stressed when recent media reports noted that SA’s commercial hake trawl fisheries could lose their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) membership next month as a result of SA missing this year’s MSC-required “hake survey”. This could cut the fishing industry off from the lucrative European market and jeopardise thousands of jobs.
The survey is usually conducted by the DAFF vessels and it is this survey that the SAS Africana is presently conducting.
Discussing the lack of sea fishery patrols, Director Fleet Force Preparation, R Adm (JG) BK “Bravo” Mhlana, told defenceWeb that DAFF had put pressure on the Navy to resume patrols as soon as possible. “That is why there was so much pressure to give support to the DAFF. Pressure on them is pressure on us,” said Mhlana.
Africana sailed on Thursday last week (14 June). Although nominally a 60 day tasking, the patrol is broken into two. After 30 days at sea, the Africana will return for a week to replenish and refuel, then depart again for another 30 day patrol.
As the Navy was still in the process of integrating and conducting technical audits on the balance of the DAFF vessels, it was decided to resume patrols using warships. The frigate SAS Amatola was tasked to perform a patrol in May to meet the DAFF requirement. The frigate, with DAFF personnel on board, conducted a two week patrol off the south-east coast, checking for illegal fishing, examining ship catches and documentation.
The offshore patrol vessel SAS Galeshewe is at present in the Port Elizabeth area conducting patrols “under the DAFF’s watchful eye”.
Mhlana stated that the technical audit commenced on the vessels the previous week and that it would take between two and three weeks. DAFF was also providing engineering staff to assist with familiarisation training. The original equipment manufacturer [Damen], Mhlana noted, will provide the required familiarisation training.
While initially the pressure was to put the vessels to sea immediately, technical issues arose, resulting in the use of the warships. The condition of Africa was worse than expected, while the engines of Lilian Ngoyi are due for overhaul in terms of its scheduled lifecycle. Further problems with the Sarah Baartman are preventing the ship from going to sea, but spares had just been landed and the repairs are expected to be completed soon.
The Navy has also appointed an unidentified company to provide maintenance for the ships between deployments. This, Mhlana says, will reduce turnaround times. The company would perform the maintenance at the Dockyard, but they may “piggyback” with some of the Dockyard personnel and Navy fleet maintainers in order to facilitate the transfer of skills. “In the future, if we keep the vessels for longer,” Mhlana noted, “It will be better … to do all the maintenance ourselves.”
In his speech, Schoultz commented that the vessels were commissioned within three months of the SA Navy accepting responsibility for operating them on behalf of DAFF.
“Also today speaks to the mutual benefit being derived by both parties,” Schoultz said, “For our sister department it means that their research and law enforcement patrols can continue and for the SA Navy it means the provision of additional platforms and hence billets at sea where our officers and sailors can gain invaluable sea time. Truly a win-win situation has been achieved.” All the vessels, with the exception of Lilian Ngoyi, are expected to be ready for sea duty by the end of July.