Namibia’s president Hifikepunye Pohamba has inaugurated the PN Sacharia naval base, a new naval jetty and the NS Elephant naval vessel during an official ceremony in Walvis Bay.
The ceremony on Friday saw the naval base named after its former captain, Phestus Nopoundjuu Sacharia, Namibia’s first Maritime Wing Commander, who died in 2002. Construction of the base began in 2002 and was completed in 2004. A bust of the commander was unveiled at the base in tribute to the naval personnel who died whilst serving the Namibian Navy, The Namibian reports.
Present during Friday’s base ceremony were Pohamba, Namibia’s founding president, Sam Nujoma, Defence Minister Charles Namoloh, and Sacharia’s widow, Elina Naanda Amukoto. They participated in a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of Sacharia and other navy officers and sailors.
During proceedings Pohamba also opened a new naval jetty, construction of which was completed last month. Construction involved excavating the seabed so that large vessels could navigate alongside. The Namibian reports that in the future, a service station and fuel and water reservoirs will be added to the jetty.
One of the highlights of Friday’s activities was the official commissioning of Namibia’s latest naval ship, the NS Elephant (S11). This is a multi-purpose patrol ship, and resembles an offshore patrol vessel built on a frigate hull.
Pohamba, also the Commander-in-Chief of the Namibian Defence Force, said that Namibia needs the capacity to protect “our exclusive economic zone, but also to respond to unforeseen events that may occur in Namibia’s territorial waters.”
“It represents a welcome boost to our capacity to ensure that our navy has the right equipment to effectively and efficiently carry out the duties and responsibilities entrusted to it,” the president said.
NS Elephant joined the NS Brendan Simbwaye and two harbour patrol boats (Möwe Bay and Terrace Bay). “Together, these ships and the men and women who sail in them constitute the frontline in the protection of our nation’s maritime interests, which form part of our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Pohamba said.
“All these ceremonies represent an important milestone in the development of our maritime defence capabilities, while the acquisition of these strategic assets is part of our ongoing commitment to strengthening our national institutions.”
Construction of NS Elephant began in October 2002 at the Wuhan Shipyard in China, reports Namibia’s New Era. The vessel was reportedly formally handed over to the navy in late June 2012. She arrived in Walvis Bay on August 13.
The vessel is equipped with a 37 mm naval gun and two 14.5 mm twin-barrelled machine guns. She has a deadweight of 2 500 tonnes and can carry 6 x 12 foot containers of 24 tonnes, six armed personnel carriers of 12 tonnes each, and at least 150 crewmembers. NS Elephant also has a landing deck for a large helicopter.
Vice-President and Board Member of the China Poly Group, Wang Xiao Chao, who attended the commissioning of the vessel with his delegation, said they were honoured to be trusted with the construction of the new navy vessel, New Era reports.
“We firmly believe Namibian Ship Elephant will significantly improve the Namibian Navy’s capability of territorial water control and logistic support and will play an important role in defending Namibian territorial waters,” he said.
Janes reports the Namibian Maritime Wing (NMW) has for some time been embarked on a major procurement programme “with the primary aim of gaining the ability to exercise control over Namibia’s EEZ.” Two Namacurra-class harbour patrol craft were donated by South Africa in 2002. Then, in 2004, Brazil donated a corvette belonging to the Imperial Marinheiro-class (Lt Gen Dimo Hamaambo, C11) to be used as a coastal patrol ship.
Following a 2003 agreement between the Brazilian and Namibian governments, the NMW took delivery of a 46.5 m coastal patrol craft in January 2009. Based on Brazil’s Grajaú-class large patrol craft, NS Brendan Simbwaye (P11) was acquired under a programme managed by Empresa Gerencial de Projectos Navais, which was also be responsible for weapon systems integration and in-service logistic support. The 217-tonne vessel was ordered by Namibia in June 2004, along with four 20.9 m aluminium fast patrol craft for coastal surveillance and protection.
Deliveries of the first two fast patrol craft were expected in 2010 and the second pair in 2011, although no confirmation has yet emerged, Janes adds. “However, it is known that construction of the four new craft began once the patrol ship Brendan Simbwaye was completed in 2009. No modernisation plans have been announced for the older parts of the NMW. It is believed that the current patrol vessels, supplied from Norway, Denmark and South Africa will be decommissioned. This includes the 406 ton patrol boat NS Oryx (P01) and two 45 ton Marlin-class patrol craft Terrace Bay (HPB20) and Möwe Bay (HPB21).
The wing’s main tasks have been described by chief Rear Admiral Peter Vilho as being to undertake “appropriate naval operations in defence of the country, assisting the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources with fisheries patrols, protecting offshore installations, protecting trade routes within the country’s territorial waters and conducting search and rescue operations”.