South Africa and Anti-Piracy Operations


Readers of Second Line of Defense are familiar with our frequent coverage of counter-piracy challenges and indeed our partnership with Strategic Insights has highlighted this coverage as well.

This is a challenge, which crosses defense and security boundaries and highlights the kind of collaboration, which is required by states and companies seeking to deal with this ongoing and consistent threat.

Our new partnership with defenceWeb allows us to expand our coverage to cover an important area of the globe where anti-piracy operations are significant, namely in the waters off of South Africa.

As the South African Navy has defined the key role of the maritime regions surrounding South Africa:

South Africa is surrounded by the ocean on three sides – to the west, south and east – and has a coastline of 3924 km. The coastline includes South Africa’s sovereign possessions of Prince Edward and Marion Islands (collectively called the Prince Edward Island Group). Prince Edward Island has a coastline of 32 km, while Marion Island’s is 134 km. The size of South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is 1, 553,000 square kilometers.

Initial indications are that a successful Continental Shelf claim may add an additional 880 000 square kilometers to South Africa’s EEZ.

South Africa occupies an important geo- strategic position, a maritime choke point, in the Southern Hemisphere, being surrounded by three great oceans – the Indian, South Atlantic and Southern Oceans. The closest continents are South America (about 7 000 kilometres to the west), Australia (nearly 8 000 kilometres to south-east) and the frozen continent of Antarctica, 4 200 kilometres to the south.

The geo-strategic position the RSA occupies as a country is an important factor that guides the country’s use and security of the seas. The importance of its geo-strategic position is followed by its maritime zones, marine resources, marine ecology and conservation – as well as its maritime trade. All of these factors carry with them immediate national, regional and international obligations.

South African Navy

Over the past year, several pieces have appeared on defenceWeb highlights the challenge and the approach to dealing with the counter-piracy aspect of maritime defense and security.  We are including these here as a base line understanding of the South African approach.

South African Navy Helps Catch Pirates

Published April 23, 2012

The South African Navy replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg has helped catch seven Somali pirates in the Mozambique Channel, in the Navy’s first hands-on capture of pirates since it began patrolling the waters off the East coast as part of Operation Copper.

According to the South Africa Navy (SAN), the capture of the pirates started off with an unsuccessful pirate attack on a Filipino merchant vessel last Friday at the Northern end of the Mozambican Channel. At about the same time, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Dar Es Salaam raised concern regarding the safety of a South African owned yacht, the Dandelion, en route from the French Island of Mayotte to the Mozambican port of Pemba.

By Sunday, the French Navy, who takes responsibility for this area in terms of Search and Rescue, had requested the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist in search efforts.

The SAS Drakensberg, with anti-piracy assets onboard, was already conducting patrol duties in the Mozambican Channel at that time as part of Operation Copper. The Drakensberg immediately commenced with a search for the missing yacht with the assistance of its embarked helicopter and a French maritime patrol aircraft.

SAS Drakensberg. Credit South African Navy.

On Monday morning, the French aircraft located the suspected pirate mother ship off the Tanzanian coast, moving in a Northerly direction. The pirate mother ship, with a skiff in tow, was identified as the Sri Lankan fishing vessel Nimesha Duwa, which was captured by pirates on November 9 last year.

At midday on Monday, the South African yacht was located off Pemba, having been delayed after suffering technical difficulties. The operation then changed from a Search and Rescue mission to a piracy interdiction operation. European naval units participating in the anti-piracy Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia, the Tanzanian Navy out of Dar Es Salaam, as well as the SAS Drakensberg were being controlled via three different Headquarters in a coordinated multi-national operation.

By Monday afternoon, the Tanzanian Navy had provided permission to the SANDF to conduct anti-piracy operations within its territorial waters and the hunt was on, the SA Navy said.

During the next 24 hours, an intensive search was conducted by the SAS Drakensberg and its SAAF helicopter along the cluttered Tanzanian coast. European and Tanzanian vessels were closing in from the North. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions hampered the search effort. However, the plan remained for the SAS Drakensberg to force the pirate vessels to escape to the North where the Tanzanian and European Union forces would be waiting.

By midday on Wednesday, the concerted pressure of the search efforts had forced the pirates to split up and the skiff with five suspected pirates were located on Songo Songo Island and subsequently arrested by Tanzanian authorities.

Wednesday evening saw units from four different countries closing in on the estimated position of the pirate mother ship. The Spanish warship got there first and managed to capture the vessel by 20:30. Seven suspected pirates were apprehended and the six Sri Lankan crew members were freed.

The SAS Drakensberg spent Wednesday night in the area to assist Tanzanian forces if so required. The suspected pirates have been handed over to the Tanzanian authorities for prosecution.

“In the end, it seems clear that a loud message has gone out that SANDF forces, as part of SADC armed forces, will not allow illegal activities within SADC waters,” the Navy said in a statement. “It is also clear that the Tripartite agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the subsequent deployment of SADC forces to safeguard our sea lanes, is paying off dividends in ensuring the safety of our seafarers and their precious cargoes. To the sailors and air crew of the SAS Drakensberg, the operational planners of Chief of Joint Operations and all others involved; we salute your valiant efforts!”

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.

Tanzania has recorded an unprecedented number of pirate attacks, reporting 57 incidents in its territorial waters between February 2011 and February 2012, which is indicative of the relocation of piracy to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ocean.

The chief of the Tanzanian Navy, Major General Saidi Shabani Omar, has reported that the effects of piracy have caused a third fewer ships to enter Dar es Salaam port, increasing the cost of living and commodities. Oil exploration recently commenced in Mozambique and Tanzania, but explorers require protection from pirates, which is very expensive.

Tanzania has arrested around two dozen pirates in the past few years, including seven in October last year. They were captured shortly after joint exercises with South African forces, including the Drakensburg, frigate SAS Mendi and the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke.

As part of Operation Copper, the Drakensberg recently relieved the frigate SAS Isandlwana, which returned to Simon’s Town in mid-March as a consequence of participating in Exercise Good Hope V with the German navy.

Anti-piracy patrols are usually conducted by the SA Navy’s four frigates (SAS Amatola, SAS Mendi, SAS Spioenkop and SAS Isandlwana). The latest patrols have generally been of six months duration. As the frigates are required to undergo repair and scheduled maintenance, they were 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.

Navy Resumes Anti-Piracy Patrols After Two Month Hiatus

By Dean Wingrin

Published August 28, 2012

After an absence of two months, the South African Navy has resumed anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Mozambique.

The frigate SAS Amatola sailed from Durban harbour yesterday to begin her latest three-month anti-piracy deployment in the waters of Tanzania and the Mozambique Channel. The Navy 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 maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force.

SAS Amatola Leaves Portsmouth Harbor

The frigate SAS Isandlwana 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 was subsequently despatched to replace the Isandlwana. After her three month deployment, the Drakensberg returned to Simon’s Town in the third week of June.

As such, there have been no South African naval vessels on patrol in the Mozambique Channel since mid-June. It is understood, however, that a SAAF C-47TP Dakota has continued providing a maritime surveillance capability from the forward station at Pemba in Mozambique.

The Amatola arrived in Durban on Friday and spent the weekend in port before heading north. This is Amatola’s second deployment on anti-piracy patrol. Unconfirmed reports have stated that Amatola is being deployed with only one of her two main propulsion diesel engines operational. This is not the first time that the Amatola has had problems with her engines. It was reported in August last year that the Navy was replacing the port diesel engine at a cost R16 million.

At the time, Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy, explained that the Navy believed “this to be a design shortcoming, but particular to the sea states we operate in. It happened when the vessel was rolling excessively and therefore the pressure changed as the exhaust went down. And there was water ingress… to the engine, [which] damaged the crankshaft of this engine,” he said.

The frigates are fitted with a combined diesel and gas turbine water jet propulsion system, consisting of a General Electric gas turbine and two MTU diesel engines. Following an investigation, engineering changes were undertaken to improve the closing of the valves under extreme conditions. The replacement of the Amatola’s engine should have been completed in March this year.

Despite recent reports of mechanical issues aboard the Amatola, these have been denied by the Navy.

“There are no technical problems with SAS Amatola,” Navy spokesperson Commander Prince Tshabalala told defenceWeb, “(Amatola) is in Durban preparing for Operation Corona and Copper. Part of this process entails a check of maintenance and routine safety checks.”

Operation Corona is the SANDF operation to protect the borders of South Africa.

Amatola To Resume Anti-Piracy Patrols

By Kim Helfrich

January 7, 2013

South Africa will send a Valour Class frigate to the Mozambique Channel at the end of January as part of its commitment to the African integrated maritime security strategy.

There has not been a South African Navy (SAN) presence in the busy east African seaboard channel for a number of months due to unavailability of suitable platforms. This saw the SAS Drakensberg tasked with anti-piracy patrol duties while frigates were busy with multinational exercises.

While the deployment has not been confirmed yet, reliable naval sources have indicated SAS Amatola will be next to take up station in the Channel. She took part in last year’s Atlasur and Ibsamar exercises and is currently undergoing final preparations for transit to and station in the Mozambique Channel.

A bland official statement from Navy headquarters in Pretoria noted, “early this year a Navy vessel will take up patrol duties in Mozambican waters. Specific details cannot be divulged for security reasons.”

C-47TP maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Credit: South African Air Force.

The Navy has maintained anti-piracy patrol duties in the Mozambique Channel since early 2011 as part of Operation Copper.

Other elements of the SA National Defence Force’s anti-piracy effort include a 35 Squadron C-47TP maritime reconnaissance aircraft, a detachment from the Navy’s maritime reaction squadron and SA Army and SA Air Force support based at Pemba.

In May last year maritime reaction squadron member Able Seaman Thulani Mbuli became the first South African fatality in anti-piracy operations. He fell into the sea while disembarking the SAS Drakensberg ahead of inspection of an Iranian registered dhow, targeted as “a vessel of interest” by intelligence. Fellow squadron members attempted, unsuccessfully, to rescue him.

Navy To Stay in Mozambique Channel Until March 2014

By Kim Helfirch

Published April 10, 2013

The South African Navy will continue anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel until at least the end of March next year.

This is in terms of an edict issued by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) commander-in-chief, President Jacob Zuma. The announcement was made this week in terms of section 201(2) (c) of the Constitution.

South Africa’s involvement in anti-piracy operations off the east coast of the continent was formalised by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into with Mozambique and Tanzania. The MOU is part of the Southern African Development Community’s contribution to end piracy off the East African coast.

South African authorities decided to extend the anti-piracy patrols conducted by the South African navy in the Mozambique Channel under the memorandum of understanding concluded some three years ago with Mozambique and Tanzania to fight piracy off the east African coast. Credit Photo: South African Navy

This has seen the maritime arm of the SANDF as the main contributor to anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel with support from the SA Air Force and the SA Army, based at Pemba. The airborne elements involved have centred round the ageing C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft and the single-engined Cessna 208 Caravan. Land-based forces have supported the Navy’s Maritime Reaction Squadron in boarding and search operations of ships classified as “suspicious”.

The Presidency indicated 220 South African Navy sailors, supported by various SA Air Force musterings and elements of the SA Army have been active in Operation Copper between November last year and the end of March this year.

While the anti-piracy tasking is normally assigned to one of the Navy’s Valour Class frigates, this has not always been possible due to non-availability of ships. The fleet replenishment ship, SAS Drakensberg, has completed two tours of duty in the Channel.

She is, to date, the only SA Navy vessel to have been part of a successful patrol sortie. This saw her take on the stopper role to prevent a pirate vessel sailing south to escape an EU Navfor patrol further up the east coast.

In just on three years of deployment in this tasking only one death has been recorded.

Last may Maritime Reaction Squadron member, Able Seaman Thulani Mbuli, drowned during a boarding sortie of a suspected pirate dhow.

SAS Amatola is currently on station on the Channel. While the main tasking of the ship and her crew is anti-piracy interdiction this has not stopped her from assisting seafarers in distress.

Last month Amatola was on the receiving end of a distress call from the Panamanian vessel, MV Meem, at anchor in Nacala Bay. Amatola responded and urgent medical treatment was given to three crew members infected with malaria.