Increased attacks by pirates on merchant vessels off the Horn of Africa and the east African coast have been cause for concern and increased headlines recently. There have also been increasing calls for South Africa to join the international community to police these treacherous waters. The SA Navy is ready and willing, but does South Africa have the will to perform anti-piracy patrols?
Recent statistics indicate a drastic increase during 2008, whereby 889 hostages were taken, 11 killed, 232 crew member`s injured and 21 missing presumed dead in 263 pirate attacks. A total of 111 attacks have taken place in the Gulf Aden.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (Piracy Reporting Centre), no less than 60 vessels were attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia alone.
That is a staggering average of 22 attacks per month off the coast of east Africa.
Not only are the vessels hijacked and its crews and cargo held for ransom, but many sailors have been murdered and scores are still missing. Approximately 20 000 ships annually transit the Suez Canal are under serious threat from these attacks.
This has forced ships to alter their routes by being forced to round the Cape of Good Hope in order to avoid the increasingly dangerous Suez Canal and Red Sea routes. The acts of piracy have also pushed up maritime insurance premiums. These increased costs are then passed on to the consumer.
Clearly, this is a situation that could not continue and required drastic measures.
As a result, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1846 on 2 December 2008 to fight piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast. UNSCR 1846 authorised States and regional organizations, cooperating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to enter Somalia’s territorial waters and use “all necessary means” such as deploying naval vessels and military aircraft, as well as seizing and disposing of boats, vessels, arms and related equipment used for piracy in accordance with relevant international law for 12 months from 2 December 2008.
Currently, 23 countries – none of them African – have pledged or deployed ships to patrol the Gulf of Aden and adjacent waters
. The latest nation to deploy its navy is Japan, sending two destroyers to the Gulf of Aden. As the majority of pirates operate from Africa, including lawless Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, one would think that an African solution by African countries, perhaps under the auspices of the African Union (AU), would be the natural answer.
Perhaps it is understandable as very few African countries possess a Navy adequately equipped to undertake anti-piracy missions. However, the South African Navy (SAN) is suitably equipped to perform such a mission.
A substantial amount of money was spent to acquire the four Valour Class frigates and three submarines under the Strategic Defence Acquisition program. All four frigates have successfully completed overseas deployments and have been declared operational, although not all four are operational at any one time due to planned maintenance schedules. The Super Lynx maritime helicopters, operated by the SA Air Force, are also due to be declared operational soon.
No one disputes that the SAN is capable of such missions, but they need to be tasked by the Chief of the SANDF, who in turn must be requested by Cabinet.
The SAN has, on a number of occasions, declared itself ready and able to undertake anti-piracy missions. It is believed that the SAN briefed the Cabinet recently in order to obtain approval for deployment on anti-piracy duties. However, a source says they received a cold audience and were told not to presume to dictate foreign policy to Cabinet either directly or through the media.
It is at this opportune time that the 3rd Sea Power for Africa Symposium was held in Cape Town in the second week of March, attended by Chiefs of the Navies and coast Guards from over 30 African countries. Various resolutions are adopted at the conclusion of the Symposium, in which all those attending speak in one unanimous voice.
Replying to a question during a press briefing at the opening of the Symposium, Defence Minister Charles Nqakula says a set of unanswered questions is preventing Cabinet from deciding the question of South Africa`s participation in counter-piracy operations.
Nqakula continued: “It is not always possible to get answers from Government as speedily as we would want”.
“We believe, as South Africa, that we need to be aware of what our role would be”.
Nqakula was non-committal in his opening address to the Symposium. However, he did extend his stay to attend all the opening day sessions “to hear what the Chiefs of the Navies have to say”.
It was with this background that Chief of the SAN, V Adm Johannes Mudimu, addressed the Symposium. In a powerful speech, Mudimu made numerous references to the pirate attacks and general lawlessness situations on both the west and east coasts of Africa.
The fact that the acts of piracy were not confined to the Horn of Africa was highlighted by Mudimu, who noted that hijackings are taking place further south and closer to South Africa.
“The hijacking of the Saudi-owned crude oil supertanker Sirius Star late last year that took place 400 miles South East of Mombasa is a clear indication of the daringness and wide area of operation of these pirates.”
Mudimu also alluded to the fact that an African presence was required to support the international community in dealing with anti-piracy issues.
“Despite the combined efforts of international Navies deployed for patrolling and escort duties the affected area of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden is too large and the deployed naval forces are at a disadvantage because they cannot escort every ship and cannot reach all the attack scenes on time. Currently the necessary Rules of Engagement are available but international legislation is needed to define the legal channels for the prosecution of these perpetrators of piracy.”
While Mudimu may feel that further “international legislation” is required, it is a fact that UNSCR 1846 clearly authorises the use of force to combat the piracy threat and that numerous countries are relying on this resolution to actively take on the pirates.
If that were not enough, South African legislation, like the Defence Act (42 of 2002), clearly authorises the use of force in anti-piracy missions. Sections 24-27 provides clear definitions of piracy and authorises the SANDF to arrest pirates on the High Seas and bring them before the country`s courts.
In addition, Section 10 of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act of 2004, the nation`s antiterrorist law, outlaws the hijacking of ships.
However, before anyone mentions that perhaps the Cabinet is worried about importing additional criminals into the country, Section 25(3) of the Defence Act allows the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the concurrence of the Ministers of Defence and of Justice, to determine any other authority to which those arrested may be brought.
One reason put forward for the delay is that approval must be sought from Parliament for the use of the SAN in external anti-piracy patrols.
Nqakula said, “As South Africa we need to have an understanding what our role will be so that we can go to Parliament because every time we have to deploy, we must get authorisation in terms of our law. Now, we can`t go to Parliament with a case that is not watertight. This is what we are preparing for.”
He would not say to whom the questions had been posed or what the questions are. The minister would also not elaborate on when the questions would be answered.
South Africa and the SAN clearly have the means to undertake joint anti-piracy patrols with the international community. It appears that current legislation provides for such missions.
So the perceived lack of (international) legislation the sole reason for delaying the decision by Cabinet?
Are they waiting for a decision by the African Union?
The African Union has ignored the resolutions of the two previous Sea Power for Africa symposia, held in 2005 and 2006, and has yet to discuss maritime security in any detail. Despite the best will of the Chiefs of the Navies, they need the buy in of their Principals. They also require resolute determination by the African Union to combat maritime piracy. If the resolutions of the previous two symposia have been ignored, what are the chances the African Union will listen now?
Nqakula says the lack of an African response is indeed problematic. “Of course that worries us. We do need to deal with organised crime in all manners that present itself, including that from the sea, and including sea piracy.”
Nqakula adds that he expects the AU to address the problem in the near future. “I`m sure it will be discussed at the next meeting of the AU – I`m not sure when that is – but I`m sure it will be discussed.
A positive aspect is that the African Union did sent a representative to the current Symposium, so hopefully that is an indication that the African Union will take the anti-piracy problems more seriously.
Indeed, the African Union representative, Mr Samuel Kame-Domguia, stated that maritime security has been placed on the African Union agenda. He reported that draft documents have been widely circulated to all relevant departments for input.
As Mudimu stated in his closing address, this progress bodes well for maritime security receiving the urgent attention it deserves at the highest continental level.
In his paper before the Symposium, Dr Ngoma of the Institute for Strategic Studies explained that no single country could undertake the leadership of ensuring maritime security, as this was a collective task for the entire continent.
In his closing summary, Mudimu said that this emphasised the need for co-operation, collaboration, exchange of information, intelligence and co-ordination in a joint approach to eradicate prevailing threats that had been identified as a golden thread throughout the symposium.
But why would South Africa wait until a collective decision is made through the African Union? Such a resolution is not expected anytime soon.
South Africans go to the polls on 22 April this year. Could the African National Congress (ANC), the majority party in the tripartite alliance, have a difference of opinion with its partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)?
What would their supporters say about spending additional funds in support of external operations? Yet, this is what the SAN has trained for and partaking in the international anti-piracy mission is sure to impress the global community. This would be a great positive for the African continent as a whole. At least one African state should be seen to be actively and publicly resolving an African problem.
A cynical observer, looking at the situation with a jaundiced eye, may even say that South Africa is benefiting from the increased trade of vessels rounding the Cape. That view certainly does not bear a second thought.
Returning to the latest Symposium, one of the resolutions adopted is to assist international efforts to eradicate the illegal use of the seas around Africa.
A further resolution places an obligation upon participating delegates to present the proceedings of the Third Sea Power for Africa Symposium, together with the associated resolutions, to their own principals in order to achieve endorsement and support by own Governments.
It appears that the chiefs of African navies are in agreement that something must be done.
Has Nqakula heard what the Chiefs have to say and report back to his Cabinet? Clearly, a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.
Reuters reports 18 states currently have ships in the region.