South Africa to build own Offshore Patrol Vessels

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South Africa is planning to locally build the new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to be acquired under Project Biro to replace the remaining strike craft and minehunters. This will strengthen local industry and ensure self-reliance.

Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy, of the South African Navy told Defenceweb that a decision had been made on the ministerial level to build the Project Biro medium-sized vessels in South Africa.
“And it’s written in the specs”, Teuteberg said, “so it’s very clearly understood by everybody. I have no doubt about it. And one of the reasons is that only 20 percent of the cost of an OPV is acquisition. Eighty percent goes into the life-cycle of that vessel. We have to ensure that we have the ability in South Africa, to maintain, redevelop if necessary, where necessary, in time.”

He explained that this was due to the life-cycle of naval vessels.
“Vessels last 30 to 40 years. Technology changes over that time. So in fifteen years’ time, what are we going to do to improve those OPVs?”
“It must be built in South Africa,” Teuteberg said, referring to the OPVs. “One of the reasons for that is we are promoting the concept of a SADC [Southern Africa Development Community] OPV. It’s one thing us [South Africa] having OPVs, and it’s another thing that we need to get our neighbours and partners in terms of the Maritime Security Strategy of Africa to start investing in Africanised designs.”

Under Project Biro, the Navy will acquire several offshore and inshore patrol vessels. A request for information for Biro-category vessels was issued last year. The navy expects to issue a request for quotations before the end of this year.

Teuteberg hastened to add South Africa would not be embarking on brand new designs. He said, that, “We will not design our own OPVs, we’ll use under license and overseas designs but we must build in South Africa.”

Teuteberg pointed to the fact that South Africa had its own shipbuilding experience, which should not be allowed to go to waste.
“I think we need to understand,” he said, the (SAS) Drakensberg was built in Durban in 1987, we built six strike craft in Durban, we built minehunters there. So, have we lost the skill in South Africa? We’ve lost some competencies, yes. But surely we can re-create it. I think the potential is certainly there to re-create it and if we have to slow down a bit so that we can catch up again, we will do that. We must create it, because that will enable countries, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Angola to potentially also start buying in Africa for Africa.”

A number of companies are lining up for Project Biro, as well as the proposed project Millennium landing dock ship requirement. DCNS and KND last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the promotion, construction and sale of Gowind offshore patrol vessels in South Africa with the aim of offering the Gowind for Project Biro.

In addition, Damen Shipyards and Durban’s Southern African Shipyards are interested in Project Biro – the latter has partnered with Germany’s Lurssen Werft for the project while Veecraft Marine recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Navantia to market Navantia’s Avante class offshore and inshore patrol vessels to the South African Navy.
“It will be practicable to build all the patrol vessels in South Africa, to existing designs,” said Jane’s Information Group correspondent Helmoed Heitman. “That will reduce the negative impact of the expenditure and could establish a ship-building industry to support the offshore oil and gas industry in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Heitman said that Ocean Patrol Vessels could be built at Southern African Shipyards in Durban while Offshore Patrol Vessels could be built there or in the Naval Dockyard by a local company, for instance Damen, or by a local company such as KND or Veecraft in partnership with a foreign yard willing to make the investment.

As with other defence requirements, Heitman was of the opinion that it will make sense to source equipment locally when it is both practicable and affordable; and to integrate equipment and systems in South Africa, for use locally and by neighbouring countries.

Heitman urged that practicable and affordable solutions should be pursued when procuring equipment locally and that it is essential to keep long-term through-life costs in mind when considering apparently cheaper or better foreign solutions.