Government might consider “re-opening” the former SA naval base on Salisbury Island in the Durban harbour, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said yesterday.
The decision to expand the Durban base — which was downgraded to a naval station in 2002 as a cost-cutting measure but never closed — was taken last week at a summit of Southern African Development Community navy chiefs in Durban, and therefore cost assessments had not yet been finalised. The move would support Operation Copper, the joint SA-Mozambique-Tanzania counterpiracy patrol in the Mozambique Channel.
Briefing the media at Parliament, Sisulu said that pirate activities were “encroaching on our waters” after the growing success of the international community’s clampdown on piracy around the Horn of Africa. “Their activities are pushed down (south) as they think it is easier to operate in our waters. This is unacceptable,” she said according to the Business Day newspaper.
Sisulu said only one of the SA Navy’s frigates (SAS Isandlwana) was currently deployed against piracy, because “we do intend to start small because it’s going to be a very costly and very huge exercise”. It is not clear how the use of Durban as an anti-piracy pole would affect the
The talk of resurrecting a naval base in Durban follows Cabinet last year approving a South African Maritime Strategy. The South African Press Association reports the strategy was discussed and adopted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit held in Angola in June last year and was now being piloted by three SADC countries: South Africa, Tanzania, and Mozambique. “It is worth noting that South Africa has signed a pact with two SADC countries, Tanzania and Mozambique, on maritime security co-operation which will see the three countries working together in securing the territorial waters while ensuring the free flow of goods for economic development of SADC and the African continent as a whole,” Sisulu said.
In addition to the trilateral agreement, the SANDF last week had hosted the SADC Standing Maritime Committee (SMC) meeting in Durban which was aimed at promoting peace and prosperity through maritime military co-operation among SADC member states. “It is therefore befitting to state that as South Africa through the SANDF, we remain committed with our resources to keep our seas secured from piracy,” she said.
Last week’s SADC summit looked at how “we are going to operationalise and implement” the strategy. “It was in that context that the conference proposed that perhaps we should move our operations to the island of Salisbury. “The main problem we are experiencing right now is the Indian Ocean, and it will not make sense to be operating from Simon’s Town to try and deter piracy in the Indian Ocean.
The development also comes as Norwegian energy company Statoil announced a significantly large discovery of natural gas in the Zafarani exploration well in the Block 2 licence offshore of Tanzania. “This discovery is the first Statoil-operated discovery in East Africa and an important event for the future development of the Tanzanian gas industry,” said Tim Dodson, executive vice president for Exploration in Statoil. “This discovery could potentially be a catalyst for large scale natural gas developments in Tanzania,” says Yona Killaghane, Managing Director of Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC).
The ports.co.za website reports BG Group also found gas of Tanzania last year, while just to the south offshore of Mozambique, Italy’s Eni SpA and the US company Anadarko Petroleum Corp have also made large gas discoveries.