SA Navy strengthens anti-piracy capabilities


The SA Navy (SAN) has just completed in a multi-national naval exercise focusing on the right of merchant ships to safe passage in places of conflict. 

The Naval Co-Ordination and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) is a system of managing the interaction and interoperation of the maritime industry and defence forces.

It is based upon cooperation and the sharing of information in peace time, allowing guidance to be given by the defence forces to the maritime industry in times of increasing tension. 

The initial contact point relating to NCAGS response is the local NATO Shipping Centre, which, in the case of South Africa, is handled by the Department of Transport. 

The NCAGS maintains a plot of all merchant shipping within the South African area.

They issue routing information and guidance, including the distribution of general navigation warnings on security issues, brief shore industry stakeholders and provides information on the maritime industry to Defence, other Government departments and Allies.  

Even more appropriately, the NCAGS boards and briefs ships in port and at sea where apposite. 

In order to provide training for NCAGS, Exercise Bell Buoy, which is organised annually by the Pacific and Indian Ocean Shipping Working Group (PACIOSWG), is a simulation designed to co-operation, fulfill agreements and exercise systems that support maritime domain awareness. 

South Africa hosted Bell Buoy for the first time this year with six countries participating in the 2009 event.

These were Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Observing were Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Namibia and Singapore.

The exercise took place between April 20 and May 1 and objectives were the following: 

·         To exercise interoperability of multi-national personnel in NCAGS operations.

·         To deploy and evaluate the interoperability of computerized systems as a means of facilitating a maritime plot and standardised signals.

·         To evaluate personnel of participating nations as regards their ability to integrate and operate in foreign surroundings.

·         To provide the South African NCAGS stations with international exposure.

According to exercise director Captain (SAN) Gerald O`Shea, South Africa is not playing any role in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. However, Exercise Bell Buoy 2009 is a “what if?” exercise.  

With reference to pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa area, O`Shea said “the South African Navy is monitoring information carefully through open sources such as the media, as well as with shipping companies”. 

Planning for Exercise Bell Buoy 2009 commenced in January 2009 with the overall concept plan and the inviting of international participants. The scenarios were then planned in detail according to a Master List. The scenario included that of merchant shipping being harassed.  

All the participating Navies form the “good guys”, reacting to the “bad guys”. Simulator Staff play a role in providing actions and reactions.  

The 72 participants from twelve countries were located in Durban and Cape Town (Wingfield), with the Headquarters located at the Silvermine defence complex south of Cape Town

All the participants were very positive about the exercise and the organisation by the SAN.  

“The exercise was an extremely good experience for us,” O`Shea said. “We feel a lot more capable”.