The SA Navy’s ambitions to boost its offshore maritime patrol capability took a step forward on Wednesday when the fourth and final Warrior-class strike craft left Simon’s Town for refit in Durban, where it will be converted into an offshore patrol vesel.
It was revealed last year that the Navy was keen to retain three Warrior-class (ex-Minister-class) strike craft as offshore patrol vessels (OPV) for as long as possible. The Navy subsequently decided to retain a fourth vessel in service as well, with all undergoing a Life Extension Programme.
The four surviving strike craft, of nine originally received in the in the 1970s and 1980s, are being refurbished and converted into offshore patrol vessels by Durban-based Southern African Shipyards. The work conducted on the vessels relates to electrical, mechanical and general hull maintenance and involves refurbishment, replacement and repainting.
The first vessel, SAS Isaac Dyobha (P1565), arrived in Durban in October last year. Having discharged all her fuel, oils and stores, the vessel was transferred to a floating dock and mounted on specially constructed cradles, where refurbishment began.
The next vessel to undergo refurbishment was SAS Makhanda (P1569), which left Simon’s Town under tow on 3 November. SAS Galeshewe (P1567) arrived in Durban in mid-December, having just completed a patrol off the east coast.
With both SAS Isaac Dyobha (now alongside undergoing short-term maintenance) and SAS Galeshewe (operationally available) having completed their Life Extension Programme and SAS Makhanda almost complete, the stripped hull of SAS Adam Kok (P1563) left Simon’s Town for Durban on Wednesday, under tow by the hydrographic and oceanographic research vessel SAS Protea.
Since the commissioning of the four Valour-class frigates in 2004/5, strike-craft have been used in the OPV role. Late last year, Rear Admiral (JG) Bravo Mhlana, South African Navy Director Force Preparation, told defenceWeb that “what we are building with those patrol vessels is for the future acquisition of offshore patrol vessels under Project Biro. That is why we must keep those vessels as long as we can when we can transfer crews from those to the new patrol vessels.”
Another motive for refurbishing the vessels is to allow them to be used in the training role. “To ensure our sailors get maximum exposure, we are also going to use those vessels for the young recruits that we receive from (naval training base) SAS Saldanha where we promote a seagoing culture,” Mhlana said.
A further four ex-Mine Hunter vessels are also being operated in the OPV role. These include SAS Umkomaas (undergoing maintenance), SAS Umhloti (operationally available), SAS Umzimkulu (operationally available) and SAS Umgeni (undergoing refit).
The OPVs have also been used for fishery patrols when the patrol vessels operated on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) could not go to sea.
The patrol vessel fleet will be home-ported once the newly upgraded Naval Base Durban at Salisbury Island in the Port of Durban has been re-commissioned.
Rear Admiral Hanno Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy, mentioned to defenceWeb in April this year that early Indications are that the life of the OPV vessels can be extended until for at least five years, to coincide with Project Biro, the new build Offshore/Inshore patrol vessel project.