South Africa’s recently approved – but as yet unpublished – maritime security strategy includes plans to cover the country’s entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with “some form of sensor, or combination of sensors that will produce the most optimal coverage”.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu avered this in answer to a parliamentary question by Democratic Alliance MP SP Kopane. “It is obvious that such an integrated system will require the cooperation of many stakeholders and will benefit the RSA in order to ensure that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our maritime zones remain intact,” Sisulu said. “Such an integrated system forms part of the deliberations on a maritime security strategy for the RSA.”
The minister added that the military had determined that a full spectrum of electronic and optical sensors, deployed from a variety of platforms would be “the optimal solution for managing the surveillance of our maritime zones.” She did not elaborate, other than noting the length of coastline “measures 3924 kilometres and the EEZ extends, for practical reasons, 370 kilometres to seaward of the baselines that approximate this coastline. The EEZ thus covers an area of approximately 1 537 000 square kilometres of open sea.
“Approximately 29% of the coastline is covered by fixed land-based radars (radar horizon depends on the height of the antenna) with a radar horizon of approximately 25 kilometres. It is thus clear that use must be made of a variety of platforms (ships, surveillance aircraft, helicopters) with a variety of sensors (eg radar, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), electro-optical, optical and others) in order to monitor the EEZ of the RSA,” the minister explained.
No timelines or milestones were provided. Sisulu declined to answer a further question by Congress of the People MP LJ Tolo, as to whether her department had put into effect increased naval patrols and vigilance on the coastline as a result of the advancing threat of Somali pirate activity. Sisulu noted the DoD was “unable to answer this question without endangering the security of the State [sic]. The Department would be able to answer this question at the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) as classified information.”
Cabinet seemingly approved the South African Navy’s maritime security strategy last month, although the wording in a statement announcing the move was ambiguous. Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi on April 21 said Cabinet “approved that the South African Defence Force [sic] should fine-tune its strategy to protect our waters from piracy. Being a littoral country, South Africa needs to have a balanced naval capability to effectively respond to maritime security threats affecting South Africa,” he said. “Cabinet noted the incursion of maritime crime into our waters, which might affect our trade routes through the seas.”
Cabinet in February tasked the military with developing a strategy to address the threat of piracy in southern African waters. Manyi at a post-Cabinet media briefing on February 25 said the executive had “noted the increasing threat of piracy in South African waters and agreed to explore initiatives aimed at assisting Somalia to counter some of the root causes of piracy.” Government also “further supported the implementation of the Eastern and Southern African-Indian Ocean (EAS-IO) strategy to combat piracy along the coast of Somalia and the greater Southern African waters.”
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu told a related media briefing the same day the SAS Mendi was already off Mozambique informally collecting information on piracy and cooperating with authorities there “to ensure maritime security in Southern African waters. We experienced an intrusion into the waters of SADC around the 28th of December with the hijacking of a Mozambican vessel that contained 28 Mozambicans and two Spanish sailors,” Sisulu said. “The Mozambicans requested of us to assist them because they don’t have the necessary equipment and in terms of a memorandum of understanding we have with Mozambique we responded to this.
“You will remember that the President indicated that we are doing all we can as South Africa to ensure that we can assist the fragile transitional Government of Somalia so that we have institutions on Somalia that can hold and that can impose some form of law and order. On the other hand it is not possible for us to sit back when we have incursion on waters that we are responsible for so we deployed the SAS Mendi to patrol the borders so that it can bring us a little more information and actually indicate to anybody out there that South African waters is protected. We have not yet formally deployed and when we do first Cabinet will be informed, Parliament will be informed and the public will be informed however we remain very concerned about the intrusion of piracy into our space and we remain determined that we will not allow it to continue.”
Tanzania has also requested South Africa to assist it in fighting piracy. “I am informed that the government has received a request from Tanzania, through the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, which has been forwarded to the Department of Defence,” she said in March in an oral reply to a question by National Council of Provinces member RA Lees. “The matter has subsequently been referred to the acting Chief of the National Defence Force so that he may advice the Minister, and the Minister may advice the Cabinet. Currently the matter is under consideration.”
Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, last month said the Mendi’s patrol is on “instruction of government.” He was speaking to the media ahead of defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s budget vote on April 13. “Currently the ship is doing very well, patrolling Mozambican waters,” he said without adding any details. The Mendi as well as South African Air Force aircraft of various types have been seen at and offshore of Pemba in northern Mozambique since late February, but government has been coy on the detail of Operation Hopper. It is understood the Mendi was carrying a contingent of Special Forces and Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) commandos to conduct boarding operations.
South African tourists and tour operators at the popular diving resort have reported the town’s airstrip has been used by a Douglas C47TP Dakota transport/maritime patrol aircraft, a Cessna C208 Caravan fitted with a Project Koiler reconnaissance system and a Casa C212 transporter. Up to two AgustaWestland Mk64 SuperLynx 300 maritime helicopters have also been seen by knowledgeable sources at Pemba.
It is understood the SAS Amatola replaced the Mendi a month ago.
Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman says he doe not believe there is any evidence, “or even likelihood, that the threat of piracy has spread south of the Mozambique Channel. It probably will spread a bit further south along the Mozambique coast over time if patrols are not stepped up and accompanied by shore operations to prevent pirates establishing shore bases and to deter locals from entering the business.” He adds the same is the case for Madagascar.
“The key at the moment is stepped up surveillance and patrolling of the Mozambique Channel, which requires additional operating funds for the Navy. The drop in funding for the frigates and submarines is the result of the projects winding down and has no immediate relevance here.
“There is a bit – not too much – of time in hand for us to get our act together: Emergency (urgent operational requirement – UOR) acquisition or lease of some surveillance aircraft; expansion of the Navy’s operational funding to facilitate stepped up frigate and submarine operations and some operations by the remaining strike craft to the north of Durban; emergency (UOR) acquisition of additional maritime special operations equipment; accelerated acquisition of OPVs [offshore patrol vessels, Project Biro] and additional Lynx (for the frigates and the OPVs; accelerated acquisition of a suitably armed (cannon for warning shots and engagement of pirate craft found initiating an attack too far from the nearest patrol vessel to allow it to intervene) maritime patrol aircraft; accelerated acquisition of a second combat support ship (to allow patrol vessels to be refuelled at sea, thereby preventing pirates from knowing when it is safe to attack where); re-opening of Naval Base Durban; accelerated development of the overall maritime security strategy for SA and linked to a similar SADC strategy for which SA will have to take the lead.”