The South African Navy continues to patrol the waters of the Mozambique Channel as part of its commitment to anti-piracy operations off the east coast of Africa.
The Navy, with the aid and support of Mozambique, has maintained an anti-piracy patrol in the Mozambique Channel since early 2011, under Operation Copper.The naval presence generally consists of a frigate supported by a C-47TP Dakota reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force.
In a letter to Parliament sent in July last year, President Jacob Zuma said that authorisation for the anti-piracy mission expires on March 31 this year.
Speaking to reporters at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in Cape Town today, Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, said that the anti-piracy operations have not stopped and are continuing.
The frigate SAS Isandlwana, which had been on patrol off Mozambique, returned to Simon’s Town in mid-March as a consequence of participating in Exercise Good Hope V with the German navy. The fleet support vessel SAS Drakensberg has subsequently been despatched to the Mozambique Channel to replace the Isandlwana.
Mudimu explained that “the South African Navy has been tasked to continue with the patrols in the Mozambican Channel and we will continue to do so.”
The four SA Navy frigates have generally been the workhorse for the anti-piracy patrols, with the first patrol being conducted by the SAS Amatola. The SAS Mendi replaced the Amatola, followed by SAS Spioenkop and then Isandlwana. The latest patrols have generally been of six months duration.
As the frigates are required to undergo repair and scheduled maintenance, they have been replaced by the Drakensberg. Although the Drakensberg is slower and is not armed like the frigates, it does carry two Oryx medium transport helicopters and is able to accommodate members of the Maritime Reaction Squadron, who perform the actual boarding and inspection of merchant vessels at sea.
In light of the requirements for the task, Mudimu thought that “the Drakensberg will give us equal capacity and capabilities that any frigate does.”
This is not the first time, however, that the Drakensberg has been deployed for anti-piracy operations.The Drakensburg, accompanied by the Mendi and the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke, visited Tanzania in September last year to conduct joint exercises with the Tanzanian navy as well as perform anti-piracy patrols. “We are trying to involve as much assets as we can,” Mudimu said.
A trilateral agreement was signed by South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania in February this year, allowing the three countries the right to, among other things, patrol, search, arrest, seize and undertake hot pursuit operations on any maritime crime suspect. In accordance with the trilateral agreement, this allows the SA Navy to patrol as far as Tanzania.