SA Navy blesses third inshore patrol vessel amid CNavy warning on ship capacity


Ahead of official launch and naming, the South African Navy (SAN) blessed its third and latest addition to its Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessel (MMIPV) fleet (P1573), during a ceremony in Cape Town on Friday 1 March.

In yet another milestone achievement for the acquisition of three MMIPV for the SAN under Project Biro, the blessing ceremony was held in the manufacturing shed of Damen Shipyards Cape Town. The blessing of a vessel symbolises good luck and safety for all her voyages at sea.

The introduction of the new MMIPVs will alleviate the strain on existing resources, allowing for more efficient patrolling and maintenance cycles, according to the SA Navy.

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, Chief of the Navy, said that “while the acquisition of Offshore Patrol Vessels remains on hold, the necessity and importance of expanding our maritime capabilities cannot be overstated. These vessels will empower South Africa to conduct more focused and effective missions against threats such as illegal fishing and trafficking, not only within our maritime domain but also across the Southern African Development Community and beyond.”

Lobese noted that in terms of the Defence Review of 2015, the SAN’s responsibilities encompass a wide range of duties, including search and rescue, hydrography, disaster response, peace support operations and naval diplomacy. He also said that at 08h00 on Wednesday 28 February, he had witnessed 1 528 ships within South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Can you imagine the international outcry if some of these ships are to become victims of piracy, or terrorism? Do you see that the large navies of the world deploy to South Africa, to come and do what we as the South African Navy should be doing? Do you see the situation around the Somalian coast repeat itself here?” Lobese asked.

Lobese continued: “No, this cannot be. And no, as your Chief of the Navy, I will not allow this.”

“However,” the Navy chief said, “if our Government (does) not actively decide to enlarge our budget, and procure more of these ships, the scenario I sketch above can indeed happen.”

The deployment of the Navy and Air Force on Operations Copper (maritime security), Vikela (SADC Mission in Mozambique), and Corona (border safeguarding) underscores the critical need for maritime law enforcement. Lobese said that whilst piracy may have declined in the Mozambican Channel, maritime crime, including trafficking and illegal fishing, persists.

Lobese told the assembled guests that at any time there are close to 100 fishing vessels along South Africa’s coast, but these were only those vessels who adhere to regulations by switching on their Automatic Identification System (AIS), which allows the Navy to track them. There are “dozens” of illegal vessels that switch off their AIS that “simply come into our oceans and steal our fish.”

“I will make the statement that within a few months the value of the fish stolen from our Exclusive Economic Zone could have paid for one of these (MMIPV) vessels,” Lobese said. “The only way this can be stopped, is if we have vessels at sea that can patrol our waters and inspect each of these vessels. If we wait too long, we will find that there is nothing left for us to protect for our next generation.”

Additional vessels still required

The blessing ceremony does not signal the definite closing of the production line of the SA Navy’s Multi Mission Inshore Patrol Vessels.

“The reason for this is very simple,” Lobese explained. “The Blue Print Force design of the South African Navy requires no less than 15 of these inshore patrol vessels. The South African Navy must still realise the option of the fourth MMIPV and will attempt to source funding for the additional 11 vessels after that. There is still the urgent requirement for an additional 15 offshore patrol vessels as well.”

Last month, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise told Parliament that new offshore patrol vessels will be acquired, while existing vessels will be maintained.

Speaking to defenceWeb, Captain (Navy) Hermann van Geems, Acting Project Officer for Project Biro, says that the blessing of P1573, as she’s called until she is commissioned and properly named, marks a major milestone for the South African Navy and the project team, with a launch scheduled in two months’ time.

SAS King Sekhukhune I (P1571) and SAS King Shaka Zulu (P1572) are presently undergoing rigorous Operational Testing and Evaluation from their base in Durban. Through integrated testing and operational activities, SAS King Sekhukhune I has already actively participated in various exercises.

“They all performing well above what is the requirements,” van Geems enthused. Although a few technical issues have appeared, the vessels are still under guarantee and in the interim support phase. These issues will be rectified before final handover to the South African Navy.

Talking to defenceWeb after the ceremony, Lobese acknowledged that the Navy also needs technology to be able to observe what is happening in the EEZ, noting that the South African Air force was unable to provide data and reach the furthest extent of the EEZ. Thus, other forms of technology, such as drones, is required.

Lobese said that the Navy’s three MMIPVs “are not enough for us to be able to patrol the 1.5 million square kilometres of sea. South Africa is the choke point of world trade. We do need to have a capacitated Navy that can be able to protect the maritime interests of this country.”

“It requires the presence of an effective, well capacitated South African Navy and there’s only one State department that can actually provide the security at sea and that’s the South African Navy,” he said.

Project Biro’s journey began in 2006 when the SAN initiated the need for a multi mission inshore patrol vessel which ultimately led to the approval of the acquisition plan in November 2017. Project Biro was for six inshore patrol vessels and six offshore patrol vessels, but due to budget constraints, the SAN had to settle for three inshore patrol vessels. A significant milestone was reached when Damen Shipyards Cape Town signed the contract for three MMIPV (plus an option for a fourth) on in 2018.

The SAN took delivery of SAS King Sekhukhune I in June 2022 and SAS King Shaka Zulu in November 2023. Delivery of P1573 (future SAS Adam Kok) in Durban is expected by the beginning of November.

All three MMIPVs are DSCT Stan Patrol 6211 design platforms. The 62 metre long, 750 ton vessels have a 20 knot economical speed and a range of 2 000 nautical miles. Besides a 9 and 7 m RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) for boarding operations, each vessel is fitted with a Reutech 20 mm Super Sea Rogue marine gun and Reutech FORT (Frequency Modulated Optical Radar Tracker) Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) optronics radar tracking system.