SAS Makhanda (P1569) will complete her tour of counter-piracy duty in the Mozambique channel on December 12 and one of her sister craft, SAS Isaac Dyobha (P1565), will take up station for the next six weeks.
The offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) are increasingly being used as platforms to carry Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) teams who are responsible for the boarding and searching suspect vessels.
Operation Copper is a tri-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) initiative to reduce piracy off the east coast of southern Africa. President Jacob Zuma extended South Africa’s commitment to the operation until the next of February next year. South Africa, along with Mozambique and Tanzania, committed to the counter-piracy operation in 2011.
Isaac Dyobha is scheduled to be replaced by SAS Galeshewe (P1567) as the command cadre of the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) appears to be moving to using exclusively OPVs on Operation Copper deployments. Galeshewe is set to take over from Isaac Dyobha at the end of January.
The OPVs currently operated by the Navy are all refurbished Warrior Class strikecraft with Makhanda coming out of SA Shipyards Durban facility earlier this year. She then successfully underwent all acceptance trials and was deployed on her first tour of counter-piracy duty in July.
The Navy initially deployed its Valour Class frigates for Operation Copper duty but the reintroduction of the OPVs, albeit as modified vessels but still capable of packing a punch, has seen them used almost exclusively in this task.
Air support is provided by a C-47TP operated by AFB Ysterplaat-based 35 Squadron based at Pemba in Mozambique. An Oryx helicopter is also usually deployed to Pemba in Mozambique as further aerial support. This aircraft is provided by either15, 17 or 19 Squadron.
While South Africa has maintained a naval and aerial presence in the Mozambique Channel only one maritime platform, the supply ship SAS Drakensberg has actively worked a piracy contact. She was designated in the “stopper” role for an EU Naval Force action further up the east African coast off Somalia.