Written by Kim Helfrich
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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs contribution to end piracy off the East African coast.
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‚Äôs Maritime Reaction Squadron in boarding and search operations of ships classified as ‚Äúsuspicious‚Äù.
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‚Äôs 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.