Operation Copper, the South African Development Community (SADC) counter-piracy tasking led by South Africa, has been on hold maritime-wise since mid-December.
The tasking sees South African military assets, airborne and maritime, patrolling the Mozambique Channel. It has its origin in the hijacking of the ship Vega 5 by Somali pirates in the Mozambique Channel and was formally adopted in August 2011 with two components – intelligence gathering and military deterrence.
The military deterrence side of the operation has, defenceWeb has reliably been informed, not seen a SA Navy vessel on station since mid-December. Indications are sailing and patrol orders will be forthcoming after Armed Forces Day (February 21).
When asked to confirm that no ship was currently patrolling SANDF Corporate Communication said: “The SANDF’s presence in the Mozambican Channel is based on regular patrols depending on the threat assessment”.
A large part of threat assessment is the intelligence gathering component of Operation Copper. This is a major operation supported by maritime domain centres running in Cape Town and Durban and co-ordinated by a multi-security agency in South Africa’s military capital, Thaba Tshwane.
The SA Air Force (SAAF) contribution to the counter-piracy tasking has also undergone a change in approach. A C-47TP from 35 Squadron is no longer deployed to Pemba to support the maritime effort. Instead the aircraft moves from its home base at AFB Ysterplaat up the east coast and refuels in Mozambique after which it links up with the Navy. The tasked aircraft lands and refuels at the closest Mozambican airport and has not technical crew having to return home for scheduled servicing and maintenance.
Another limiter is the lack of funds for operations of this type as indicated by a presentation to the Cabinet Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster by the SANDF Joint Operations Division late last year.
Joint Operations confirmed it is over-stretched when it comes to deployments internally and externally. Operation Copper is one such external deployment with others being continental peace support missions while the major internal deployment is Operation Corona for border protection.