South Africa’s sole foray into countering piracy – Operation Copper – is part of the National Development Plan (NDP) which recommended the country extend anti-piracy operations beyond Mozambican and Tanzanian waters to include Kenya.
This has not happened, Timothy Walker of the institute for Security Studies (ISS) points out in the publication “Securing a sustainable oceans economy: South Africa’s approach”.
Much the opposite has occurred with the tasking which started in 2011.
“The extension to include Kenya did not happen which would have expanded the mission beyond the SADC region. In addition, Mozambique and Tanzania have not contributed as much to Op Copper as South Africa. Tanzania withdrew from the agreement in 2014, leaving South Africa to shoulder almost all the burden.
Walker points out Tanzania has “signalled” an interest in rejoining and notes countries such as Madagascar and the Comoros “also vulnerable to a southward spread of piracy, did not participate”.
“If a strengthening of regional co-operation is to occur, to deter and counter maritime crimes such as illegal fishing, they need to be encouraged to join.”
The NDP’s second recommendation to strengthen Op Copper could not be maintained, as the withdrawal of continuous South African Air Force (SAAF) capacity weakened the operation. While the SAAF has occasionally provided support, there have been times when there has been no South African maritime or air patrol capability on station at all.”
Walker also points out the South African government sees a continuous counter-piracy role on both coasts for the foreseeable future. “Further explanation – such as the potential interest of South Africa in the protection and development of Mozambique natural gas fields – is required to support the argument that patrols, as currently mandated and structured, continue to be necessary.”
Walker notes that by far the bulk of commitment defence-wise to counter-piracy and protection of maritime resources as outlined in the blue economy sector of Operation Phakisa are falling to the maritime service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
He points out the Defence Review offered “a pessimistically candid assessment of South African military capability. The authors of the review suggested South Africa’s navy could no longer provide combat-ready vessels and it would struggle to undertake primary tasks.
“This is unfortunate as the country’s naval capacity was improved in the 1990s in a way that went against its historical experience. Since its inception the SA Navy has been a small and marginal part of South Africa’s defence establishment, it is commonly referred to as a ‘Cinderella’ for being expected to make do with the meanest of budgetary allocations.”
Walker maintains South Africa needs to carefully consider how to ensure its Navy possesses the necessary funding and capacity to undertake its conventional, diplomatic and policing tasks, as well as support other departments involved in policing and protecting the ocean spaces.