Sunday, February 26, 2012

South African Navy to Enhance Presence in Mozambique Channel

SA to jack up navy to combat Somali piracy

Feb 26, 2012
Paul Vecchiatto

International shipping lines are seriously thinking about the safety of their vessels transiting East African waters as the threat of Somali piracy grows, says Defence and Military Veterans Affairs Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Speaking at a Parliamentary press briefing on Sunday, Sisuslu said the threat was growing with 17 incidents reported in Tanzanian waters during the past year.

"As the international patrols off the Somali coast hamper the pirates' ability to operate there, then they move further down and away from the coast," she said.

Last year SA deployed one of its four modern German-built frigates into the Mozambique Channel and Sisulu signed an agreement with her Mozambique counterpart to allow the SA Navy to patrol offshore waters there.

Sisulu said the SA government's policy with piracy would be changing to deterrence from one of reaction, meaning that the fleet would have to mount a standing patrol of ships and aircraft up the east African coast rather than wait for an incident to happen and then respond.

"Because of this we want the Durban naval facilities to be returned to being a proper base," she said.

The SA Navy has had facilities on Salisbury Island in Durban Harbour since before World War 2. However, these were downgraded to a refueling and support station during the defence budget cuts of the late 1990s.

Chief of the SA Navy Vice-Admiral Refiloe Midumu has called for the refurbishment of the Durban facilities several times in the past and most recently at an SA Development Community Standing Maritime Committee meeting in the harbour city last week.

Last year cabinet agreed this should be done, however, Sisulu conceded that no budget had been allocated for this.

At Sunday's press briefing Sisulu bemoaned the limited funds available to the SA National Defence Force.

Sisulu said she would like to see defence spending, as a percentage of GDP, rise from about 1.2% to around an internationally accepted norm of about two percent.

For 2012, the Budget allocation to defence was increased by 8.5% to R41 billion. In comparison the SA Police Service budget was raised by 6.8% to R61 billion.

"Defence has always been the place that has been looted to provide for other more needy requirements," Sisulu said.

Maintaining a standing naval patrol in the Mozambique Channel would be costly and Sisulu said that the Department of Defence was in negotiations with other departments such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Trade & Industry to pool resources that may help offset the expense of such an exercise.

Somali pirates have increased their range by tenfold in recent years and attacked a Mozambique fishing vessel in December 2010 and a Liberian registered merchant vessel in January last year in the Mozambique Channel.

The Mozambique Channel, the body of water between that country and Madagascar, carries 30 percent of the world's oil supplies and 98% of South Africa's maritime traffic.

Sisulu said that more than 90% of intra-African trade was seaborne and that the continent's 44 oil refineries located in 25 countries were located at coastal sites and had to be protected.

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