The question is often asked whether South Africa should establish and maintain a coastguard, either as part of the SA Navy or separate. A subsidiary question is whether the Navy should crew the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism’s (DEAT) inshore and offshore patrol vessels. Retired R Adm (JG) Theo Honiball gives his view:
During peacetime, navies of the world often have difficulty justifying their existence and the high expenditure on expensive and sophisticated equipment, to the taxpayers.
General Magnus Malan often said during the Angolan war, that “die Vloot het geen bestaansreg nie” (the Navy has no right to exist/there is no justification for a Navy), which is why then Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Ronald Edwards, who was a former marine, established the SAN`s marine corps in 1979 to have a presence on the Zambezi river during the border war.
So navies world-wide also tend to look for work in peace time. A navy`s primary function in peace time is to equip itself to meet a perceived or potential threat and then to train so that they will be able to use their equipment effectively when the threat manifests itself.
There is a minor complication though. A threat (foreseen or sometimes unexpected) can manifest itself overnight, whereas to equip and train to build a particular capability, could take years, an example being the submarine flotilla.
A Navy equips itself for its primary functions, and then produce a long list of secondary functions to justify its existence in peacetime, such as supporting other government departments (diplomatic missions for Foreign Affairs, otherwise known as cocktail parties in foreign ports!); search & rescue to support SAMSA, the SA Maritime Safety Authority; combating pollution to assist the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism (DEAT); high seas chases of ships engaged in illegal fishing to assist the DEAT`s Marine & Coastal Management (the Sea Fisheries of old), anti-piracy to support law enforcement. I am sure there are many more that one could add to that list.
The point is that all these peace time missions are “in support of” other government departments and not to take over their functions, which is why they are termed secondary roles or functions.
A question of hats
In time of conflict a navy`s mission focuses on its primary role and function. For the Navy to operate another government department`s vessels means that the Navy is not using its personnel correctly to train in peacetime for its primary function, which is to become an effective combat force.
The Navy`s inshore and offshore patrol vessels (IPVs and OPVs) are part of the steps of career advancement to enable naval personnel to gain experience to eventually graduate to the more sophisticated combat vessels; something akin to the Air Force`s “lead-in” trainer aircraft principle. One would expect that a captain of one of the Navy`s big ships would have previously had command of a smaller vessel.
The IPVs and OPVs allow younger officers and crew to gain a broad experience in ship-handling, watchkeeping, rescue, territorial patrol, intelligence gathering, interceptions, boarding parties, etc, and not to focus on the functions of one government department such as the DEAT.
If the DEAT cannot carry out its own responsibilities then the problem lies within that Department. The solution is not to ask the Navy to operate their ships – such as the Lilian Ngoyi (pictured) for them. DEAT management must identify its problems (correct budgeting, attractive service conditions, good management, effective planning, prioritising expenditure, and whatever else prevents them from carrying out their responsibilities). That should not be too difficult.
If the Navy`s IPVs and OPVs were variations of the same class of vessel as operated by the DEAT, then the Navy could assist with maintenance, repairs, refits, spares availability and training, but not to operate the DEAT`s ships on their behalf nor to do their work for them. Asking another department to do your work for you, is a “cop out” and abdication of responsibility.
Should SA have a coastguard?
If SA could afford to have a coast guard, and the bulk of the SA Navy`s missions were outside SA waters, then a separate coast guard could be a good idea – like the US Coast Guard. The US Navy (like most large Navies) spends most of its time in foreign waters, so somebody at home must carry out all those secondary functions.
But let`s not get delusions of grandeur!
We are very much a small country with a small budget and a small Navy. Other government departments and agencies that have maritime responsibilities (the SA Police Service, Department of Transport, Customs, Immigration, Health, Agriculture, port authorities, the DEAT) do their own work and are responsible to their own cabinet ministers.
The functions of a coast guard would have to be the responsibility of a single civilian government department.
Captain Jock Deacon did his PhD on the potential of having a “Minister of SA`s Maritime Territory”, on the basis that SA`s maritime territory/ies should be treated as another province of SA.
All the functions of a coastguard would then be on his turf and these non-military functions could all be consolidated into a coastguard.
The point being that it would be difficult to have a coastguard service if different government departments have different maritime responsibilities – who will be the overall co-ordinator and what authority will he have?
With a coastguard organisation, civilian government departments would delegate their functions to a single coastguard authority. Their functions would be numerous and varied. Inter-departmental jealousies and turf wars (such as that between the police and the “Scorpions”) would have to be overcome to have all maritime functions taken away from departments to be consolidated under one department.
The coastguard would enforce law and regulations, the Navy would remain as an armed military maritime (naval) force whose function remains to defend the integrity, interests and sovereignty of the state.
Should SA have a coastguard? No, because the SA Navy`s secondary function of assisting government departments in their duties is a more economical solution than having a coastguard. If the SA Navy had to become an international Navy with overseas responsibilities, then a coastguard would be an option to fill the vacuum left by a mostly absent Navy.
For what it is worth, I imagine that should we have a coastguard, the SA Navy would lose a lot of its personnel to the coast guard. I think that it would create more problems than it would solve.