Defence spend, more vessels needed if ocean economy is to be protected


A timely reminder that South Africa is going to have to invest heavily in maritime patrol and surveillance capabilities if the Presidential plan to unlock the ocean economy is to work came from the bridge, as it were, this week.

Commander Charl Maritz, Commander of the Valour Class frigate SAS Mendi (F148), did not pull any punches when he addressed a Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) symposium on the blue economy and associated maritime security challenges. The symposium follows an announcement by President Jacob Zuma in October that the country will be looking to the seas surrounding it to boost national economic activity over at least the next 20 years. Speaking in Durban he said the ocean economy has the potential to contribute up to R177 billion to the economy and create a million jobs by 2033.

Speaking as a person closely involved with the operational side of the maritime domain, Maritz told symposium delegates “if one is earnest about the importance of the southern African maritime environment a justifiable monetary investment has to be made and also wholly supported”.

He said that with “only a handful of assets” the SA Navy (SAN) can only do either constabulary activities or naval warfare.
“Operationally, for any navy and in this particular case the SAN, their use for constabulary tasks is a paradox. By virtue of their infrastructure they are capable to conduct such tasks, but it is contrary and secondary to their primary focus. Many naval officers will oppose their use in constabulary tasks as it may dilute their higher end naval warfare focus and capabilities if they are ‘bogged down’ in coast guarding type duties. This raises the perpetual arguments for and against navies versus coast guards to service the maritime security needs of a country. The effects of these arguments, sometimes active opposition, visibly spill over onto the operational and tactical conduct of maritime security.
“Political understanding is required that with only a handful of assets the SAN can only do one or the other. Each decision in support or opposition of either direction has its own explicit and inherent consequences. Additionally, it is rarely understood, or perhaps acknowledged, that to have just one maritime capability asset, such as a ship or aircraft, permanently available for a particular task one requires an order of three to four of the same type to achieve a permanent rotation. For example; one ship on operations, one ship in maintenance and one ship conducting post maintenance and pre-mission work-up training. This is a significant, and continuous, monetary investment required to service a maritime security strategy,” he said, adding South Africa has more than 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean area jurisdiction.

Elaborating, Maritz said: “The SAN, by extension the SANDF [SA National Defence Force] has had a ship on station on Operation Copper in the Mozambique Channel almost permanently since January 2011. This effort has been jointly supported by the SAAF [South African Air Force] through an airborne maritime surveillance capability and is further supposed to be in co-operation with the Mozambique government and armed forces. Similarly the SAN also participates in Operations Corona, Prosper and Festive Season, which, from the naval perspective, are all joint and co-operative constabulary activities to counter criminality around South Africa’s territorial maritime zone. Further verbal commitments for co-operation also see SAN ships deploy sporadically on East and West Coast patrols for similar purposes, supporting other SADC role-players.
“Already three operational areas are evident for committed constabulary maritime activities. To follow the capability analogy mentioned a nine to 12 ship fleet would be necessary to permanently service just this commitment.
“The SAN does not have that number of patrol capable vessels and as a result can only satisfy the commitments in part or on an ad hoc basis. This dilutes effectiveness and goes against the grain of continuous visible patrol and policing. The patrolling issue resulting from ad hoc deployment means it is a diluted and passing contribution of associated support. Most particularly this rarely allows for proper planning and administration of JIIM (Joint, Interdepartmental, Interagency and Multi-national) activities at a tactical level, reducing the effectiveness of the effort.
“The next major operational patrol issue is embedded in the surveillance capability a country, or region can imprint over its maritime territories. The ability to source long range, persistent and relevant information on the maritime environment allows determination and/or prediction of where and when potential acts of maritime criminality may occur or give indication that they are. The intelligence bodies, organisations and networks responsible for surveillance analysis must then act as the conduit for warning and tasking of an enforcement platform.
“Once deployed, a single ship has a surveillance capability up to its own radar and visual horizons, seldom more than 30 nautical miles. It is thus a localised asset that needs to be directed onto an illicit activity. This direction should also account for the speed at which ships proceed and the distance to cover to gain contact with a perpetrator. Justice cannot be delivered unless a culprit can be apprehended.
“Aircraft have a greater surveillance range than ships and can move faster between points, but are still relatively localised as assets and cannot themselves achieve apprehension of a maritime criminal. A helicopter operating from a ship does the same but at a reduced range and endurance. Both aircraft and ships need to be directed to areas of suspected criminal activity to localise and fix the suspects, while the aircraft would generally gain and maintain contact while awaiting the arrival of the ship as the enforcement platform.”

Maritz said there were successes in combatting maritime crime the world over giving the Horn of Africa as one example.

He pointed out the global will and supported infrastructure to achieve these successes are massive.
“There are multiple task groups constituting more than 30 warships at any given time in this geographic hotspot. These are guided and directed by a variety of intelligence based shore organisations designed to have enforcement assets adequately positioned to achieve intercept on attempted piracy and criminality. Additionally the warships themselves are well suited, well prepared and well outfitted to conduct VBSS (visit, board, search and seize) while being efficiently mandated to act in the enforcement of maritime security strategies for the region.
“Despite all this effort and concentration of assets, the size and nature of ocean areas are so vast that the system is not fool proof. As security measures evolve, so too do measures taken by criminal elements to avoid them. This shows the evolving demands placed on a maritime security strategy and accentuates the need to keep such strategy relevant and supported.”