SA govt still mulling antipiracy operations

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The Department of Defence (DoD) as well as the South African Navy are still awaiting word from government on the country’s participation in the fight against piracy off north-eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
DoD spokesman Simphiwe Dlamini told a SA National Defence Force`s Joint Operations Division media briefing on Friday that the military “has done an appreciation on the situation and the given the results of that appreciation to our minister who will take it up with his colleagues at Cabinet.
“I can safely say it is on the table with the executive and is being discussed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in particular,” he said.
Any decision on the matter would likely be made at the routine press briefing that normally follows a Cabinet meeting. Cabinet meets every alternate Wednesday.    
The SANDF`s chief director of operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz said Joint Operations as well as the Navy “have taken note of developments and we have trained people across the board to deal with a range of contingencies, including this one.”
“Whether we will get involved, I don`t know; but should we get involved, the Department [of Defence] will respond as it always does to government imperatives,” he added.
Schoultz also said the scourge of piracy proved the wisdom of the Navy retaining its expertise in convoying and guidance of shipping. “People have said that in the modern era there is no need to run convoys and control ships and sea. Well, Somalia has shown that maybe [there is], for lo and behold, ships are being controlled and convoyed.”
He says naval forces deployed in the area are building up an intelligence picture of where pirates are, and are sending coordinates to ships how to steer to avoid them.
Schoultz says the Navy will be hosting Exercise Bell Buoy in late April to practice these skills. Bell Buoy is a command post exercise for Indian Ocean and Pacific navies and will feature officers from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, he adds.
“It is a nice way of getting to know your neighbours from a maritime perspective. They may not have the ships, but nothing stops them from having the intelligence and also directing their ships or ships to their ports,” he adds.
NATO ups ante
Meanwhile, the Bloomberg news service reports the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will send six more warships to the Gulf of Aden and adjacent waters that carry a tenth of the world`s trade.
“You can expect to see another what we call standing NATO maritime group off the coast of Somalia in the coming months contributing to the overall international effort,” Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Krakow, Poland, last week.  
Pirates attacked 165 ships and hijacked 43 last year in the Gulf of Aden. The increase from 58 attacks and 12 seizures in 2007 prompted an overlapping international coalition — the US, NATO, the United Nations and European Union — to dispatch frigates and escort ships to protect the sea lanes.
Currently, around 20 warships are on patrol off the coast of Somalia, guarding the approaches for the 50 cargo vessels that enter and exit the Suez Canal daily. About 30 percent of Europe`s oil supply, or 3.5 million barrels a day, passes through the canal.
NATO`s first mission, involving three ships, lasted seven weeks until the alliance handed off to a six-ship patrol under the EU flag in December.
The US commands a three-ship fleet known as Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), while Russia, China, Malaysia and India have also sent ships.
The deployment was NATO`s first to the Gulf of Aden, another step toward widening the alliance`s role beyond its original mission to defend European territory. NATO claimed credit for safely escorting 30 000 tons of food to Somalia, Bloomberg noted.  
The EU fleet — the 27-nation bloc`s debut naval mission – saw its first action on 27 December when a helicopter from a German frigate repelled pirates attacking an Egyptian bulk carrier and destroyed their weapons.
The pirate-infested waters are so vast — equal to twice the surface area of SA, according to one estimate – that there is enough work for forces under different flags, De Hoop Scheffer said.
“It is an enormous stretch of water, so the ships are not in each other`s way, we do not have to worry there,” he said. NATO has yet to determine the start and end dates for the mission, which will draw from allied ships that conduct routine joint exercises.
“It`s a considerable strengthening I think of the antipiracy role,” De Hoop Scheffer said.
In another development, the US Navy has announced Turkey and Singapore have joined CTF 151, which currently includes contributions from the US, Britain and Denmark.
“Coalition ships are a critical part of our mission,” said Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, Commander, CTF 151. “The very nature of some of our operations, as well as the success of those operations, is often predicated on our ability to work effectively with our partners and allies.”
International law obligates all nations to cooperate to the fullest extent in the repression of piracy.
In regular confrontations on the high seas, warships from the world`s most powerful militaries have shot at, sunk and seized small pirate craft, freeing hostages and confiscating weapons, drugs and cash.
Some owners have paid ransoms to get their ships and crews back. In the most notable case, Ukraine this month airdropped $3.2 million to a gang of 10 pirates to win the release of a cargo ship ferrying 30 T72 tanks to Kenya, ending a four-month ordeal for the 21-man crew.
In November, pirates seized a Saudi tanker carrying two million barrels of crude oil, letting it go two months later after a ransom was parachuted onto the ship.