Spain is hoping that the South African Navy (SAN) shows more than a passing interest in the Spanish Navy’s newest Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) that is paying a visit to South Africa.
The ESPS Rayo, a ‘Meteoro’ class Maritime Action Ship built by Spanish shipyard Navantia, is one of the most modern ships in the Spanish Navy and was commissioned in May 2011. She is the second of four BAM (Buque de Acción Marítima) modular Offshore Patrol Vessels built for the Spanish Navy. The BAM ships are adaptable to different missions, based on a common platform.
The Rayo has just concluded her participation in Operation Atalanta, the European Union naval force tasked to deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The ship was integrated into the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR), conducting anti-piracy patrols for 85 days.
The South African visit is part of her voyage back to Spain, in which the ship will make a tour all around Africa, in order to enhance common understanding with friendly countries and to strengthen maritime security cooperation with African navies.
The Rayo arrived in Durban on 26 May, leaving just two days later in order to arrive in Cape Town on 29 May. According to the Embassy of Spain, the visit is aimed to provide some crew rest and to enhance cooperation and ties with the South African Navy.
The ship’s Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Rafael Hernandez, told defenceWeb that “we are interested in interacting with South Africa as the South African Navy has one of the most modern navies in Africa.”
As part of the close ties between the Spanish Nay and the SAN, two SA Navy officers deployed aboard the Rayo on her trip from Durban to Cape Town. All aboard were more than happy that they did not experience the heavy weather, including waves of up to 4 metres, that they experienced during their trip from Maputo to Durban. The senior Officers of the Rayo have also briefed their SAN counterparts of their experiences during Operation Atalanta.
During her deployment in Operation Atalanta, the Rayo took part in shipping control tasks within the IRTC (International Recommended Transit Corridor) and also escorted World Food Program (WFP) ships. The Spanish Navy notes that the Rayo provided assistance to the hijacked merchant ship ‘Royal Grace’ after her release by pirates.
Apart from her own crew the ship embarked a Marine Corps unit and a support unit for the AB-212 helicopter.
Hernandez mentioned that just prior to completing their tour with Operation Atalanta, a fishing vessel reported that a suspicious skiff with six persons on board had been spotted 200 nm (370 km) off Mogadishu, Somalia.
“The skiff,” Hernandez explained, “was suspected of pirate activity and neutralised.”
Hernandez continued that they were sent by EUNAVFOR to inspect the skiff. Although no weapons were found, they did find other suspicious items, including two outboard motors and cell phones.
With no reasonable explanation for their presence so far off shore, “they should not have been there,” the suspects were taken on board the Rayo and medically checked. The skiff was taken aboard a Swedish EUNAVFOR warship as evidence, whilst the suspects were taken ashore.
Having visited Tanzania and Mozambique, further scheduled port-calls include Namibia, Angola, Gabon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Cape Verde.
When the 76 men and women of her crew return to the Canary Islands, she would have been at sea for five months.
Her home base is at Las Palmas Arsenal, in Canary Islands. With a displacement of 2,500 tons and 93.90 meters length, she is a brand new Offshore Patrol Vessel, designed to protect sea areas of interest for Spain, maintain naval presence overseas and carry out Maritime Security tasks where required.
Navantia will also be paying key attention to the visit of Rayo as South Africa will be replacing it current fleet of offshore and inshore patrol vessels under Project Biro. The new OPV vessels to be acquired by the SA Navy will be built locally, most likely in conjunction with a foreign shipyard.
The Rayo will depart Cape Town on 8 June 2013. Ship will be open to public on Saturday 1 June and Sunday 2 June from 1000 to 1400.