South Africa’s contribution to continental counter-piracy – Operation Copper – along the east coast has been extended for another 12 months.
The announcement extending the tri-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) operation based in the Mozambique Channel was made yesterday (Monday April 3) in a statement issued by the Presidency.
“President Jacob Zuma has, in terms of section 201(2)(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, extended the employment of members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for service in fulfilment of the international obligations of the Republic of South Africa towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC) maritime security, in the Mozambique channel,” the statement said in part, adding 200 SANDF members will continue monitoring and deterring piracy activities along the southern African coast of the Indian Ocean.
The deployment has been extended for the period April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.
Operation Copper has, since late January, been largely a listening post tasking because of the non-availability of South African airborne and naval assets.
The SA Navy supply and replenishment vessel, SAS Drakensberg (A301), was withdrawn from counter-piracy duties in February due to mechanical problems. Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane, last month said in Simon’s Town repairs to Drakensberg had been done and she, the only SA Navy vessel to have been involved in an active anti-piracy operation, along with European warships, since the commencement of the tasking seven years ago, was back on station.
According to the Navy, Drakensberg was set to complete her latest tour in the Mozambique Channel at the end of last month and the vessel was seen arriving back in Durban on 30 March. No announcement has yet been made, either from fleet HQ in Simon’s Town or the Navy Office in Pretoria, as to which platform will be taking up the duty and when.
Naval assets deployed in the Mozambique Channel have included Valour Class frigates and Warrior Class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) as well as the Drakensberg.
A change in operations planning and execution saw the SA Air Force (SAAF) withdraw its C-47TP aircraft from Mozambique in November 2015. Previously an aircraft was tasked for and spent time in Mozambique, usually based at Pemba. This was changed with aircraft from the AFB Ysterplaat based squadron flying up the coast doing maritime patrol work en route before entering Mozambican airspace and transiting into a support role for the naval asset on station. Aircraft also routed via AFB Waterkloof for refuelling and then on to Maputo before undertaking maritime patrols.
All eight the C-47TPs were last year grounded ensuring airborne maritime patrols could not be mounted in support of Operation Copper using the type. C-130BZ Hercules have conducted maritime surveillance flights off Mozambique, flying from Air Force Base Waterkloof to Pemba or Maputo. The necessary repairs and maintenance on the C-47TPs have since been completed and at least some of 35 Squadron’s aircraft have been seen in the air above Cape Town.
The Presidential statement does not go into any detail on the deployment of the 200 SANDF members, not specifying which services of the defence force are contributing manpower and assets.