Navy puts DAFF’s Africana to sea


A Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) ship has sailed from Simon’s Town on a sea fisheries patrol with a South African Navy crew and captain.

The New Age (TNA) reported Thursday the RS (Research Ship) Africana, along with six other DAFF ships, has been standing idle alongside at Simon’s Town naval harbour after being “almost unceremoniously dumped” there when a contract between a specialist marine service company and Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s department was not renewed. This has seen South Africa’s maritime exclusive economic zone unprotected, with the exception of SA Air Force maritime patrols and the efforts of an already overstretched SA Navy, the TNA reported.

When the DAFF ships came alongside in Simon’s town it was almost a case of déjà vu for the Navy, having four years ago had to investigate and submit a report on the possible operation of the fleet entrusted with fishery protection and research. At that time a figure of about R800 million a year was quoted as being what the Navy would need to keep these specialist vessels operational. This was turned down and a contract entered into with specialist marine service company Smit Amandla.

Over the last four weeks the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force has been working round the clock via a dedicated task team under the leadership of Rear Admiral (junior grade) Bravo Mhlana to operate at least some of the DAFF ships. When the Africana, under the command of Captain (SAN) “Lotta” Mabula, left Simon’s Town, one part of the major task reached completion stage.
“Africana is crewed by Navy members with DAFF supplying the specialist side of the crew for fisheries research,” Navy spokesman Commander Prince Tshabalala said. At this stage no clarity is available on when the remaining ships Algoa, Ellen Khuzwayo (both research vessels), Sarah Baartmann, Lillian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First (all patrol vessels) will be able to sail and operate.

With the Navy under-staffed and stretched with anti-piracy patrol duties in the Mozambican Channel as well as other patrol duties, some of them up the African west coast, there is no clarity on crewing the “new” additions to the fleet. One option is for Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to invoke the Defence Act and enlist former DAFF crew as Reserve Force members. “This would at least serve to keep the ships operational for what is important work,” a retired admiral who did not want to be named told the TNA. “At the same time having a number of extra hulls available would allow the Navy to give more ‘sea time’ to those not currently aboard surface ships.”

As an example the new commander of Africana is an out-and-out Navy man having been at the helm of two of mine countermeasures ships and also doing time aboard the supply and replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg in a senior position, the TNA averred. “He has all the necessary qualifications to command Africana and will, I’m sure, do so with aplomb. The big difference is his new command has no weapons and he has to contend with civilians, in the form of researchers,” the former senior sailor said.