The South African Navy frigate SAS Spioenkop departed Simon’s Town Wednesday morning on a patrol along the west coast of Africa, destined for Dakar in Senegal.
During her six-week voyage, the South African warship will be visiting Walvis Bay (Namibia), Luanda (Angola), Tema (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria) prior to arriving in Dakar where she will support the South African contingent participating at the Sea Power for Africa Symposium.
The patrol, known as INTEROP WEST, is a military diplomacy mission, showing the flag in each of the ports. En route, the ship will exercise with various African Navies and allow naval officers of different countries to sail on board.
According to Capt Chris Manig, Commander of the Frigate Squadron, the actual exercises will be decided by the ship and the host country whilst the ship is alongside.
“We won’t have any specific requirements that we want to exercise with our neighbours, it’s more about what they would like to do with us on areas that they want to brush up on,” Manig explained.
“We’ll look at the visiting country’s capacity in terms of their navy and any specific outcomes they want to concentrate on and then we’ll discuss a program around that,” he continued.
The exercises will possibly concentrate on maritime interdiction and anti-piracy type operations, including anti-piracy boarding training.
Commanded by Captain MA Boucher, the Spioenkop has a crew of 180, together with a dozen Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) members and four specialists from the South African Military Health Services (SAMS). The South African Air Force contingent with a Super Lynx maritime helicopter had to pull out at the last minute due to serviceability issues with the helicopter.
Whilst a blow to the Navy, Manig put on a brave face. Spioenkop is due to replace SAS Isandlwana on Operation Copper, the anti-piracy mission in the Mozambique Channel, in January next year.
“We will definitely be taking a helicopter (then), so we will catch up on what we couldn’t achieve on this particular trip, Manig said, “So it is of no real concern to us.”
The west coast of Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger Delta, is a high piracy threat area. The Navy says that the pirates in the area are getting more and more brazen in terms of who they board and who they take hostage. As the navies in the area have their own practices in place to counter the piracy threat, the Spioenkop will not be going out and actively looking for any pirates.
However, Manig explained that they may be called upon to assist whilst they are in the area as they have the capability of assisting with the MRS boarding teams and boats onboard. Thus, the MRS is capable of intercepting and boarding any suspicious vessels as part of the anti-piracy objectives or hijacking at sea.
Once alongside in Senegal, the ship will participate in the 4th Sea Power for Africa Symposium from 4 to 8 November 2013. Attended by Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, the Symposium is attended by Chiefs of the navies or their representatives from most of the African coastal and inland navies, together with observers from international navies. It aims at identifying, prioritising and resolving various maritime issues facing Africa.
Spioenkop will also act as a display platform for the South African Defence Industry, where Denel will be showcasing various defence industry products and hardware.
Having spent 10 days in Senegal, Spioenkop will depart on 11 November and passage direct to Simon’s Town, arriving on 22 November.
Spioenkop recently participated in Ex Shared Accord, the joint South African/ US Armed Forces exercise that was held in the Eastern Cape in July this year.
INTEROP WEST and INTEROP EAST are generally held alternatively each year, with the aim of building and maintaining co-operation with navies along the coast of Africa.