THE chief of the South African Navy, V-Adm Johannes Mudimu, on Thursday called for the return of the Cape Town-based dockyard to the navy’s control, saying the inability of state-owned arms procurement agency Armscor to run it effectively was crippling navy operations.

The dockyard has been bedevilled by strikes and chronic lack of engineers, welders and technicians, resulting in delays in the servicing of the country’s naval vessels and submarines — sometimes by up to two years.

Since 2010, the navy has seen an expansion of its role in regional maritime safety and security to include antipiracy work off the coast of Mozambique.

"I have no doubt there will be implications for the unions refusing to be under the control of the South African National Defence Force, but these things could be ironed out in thorough negotiations between the parties," V-Adm Mudimu said on Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s start of Navy Festival 2013, which will see the navy opening its Simon’s Town base to visitors.

Earlier, he told reporters the navy was going to re-establish a base at Salisbury Island at Durban Harbour. "The South African Navy is going back to Durban."

Navy ships taking part in antipiracy operations in the Mozambique channel and up the east coast needed a base from which to operate, he said.

R-Adm Monde Lobese said problems facing the Armscor dockyards were affecting the navy’s readiness. "The navy is therefore not able to meet its constitutional mandate with regard to patrolling the national waters and responding to regional obligations and conducting international missions." R-Adm Lobese said delays in servicing ships were so severe at one stage that the navy had to send one of its vessels to the Seychelles for a service, as it was urgently needed.

The navy was among the major beneficiaries of South Africa’s recent multi-billion rand arms deal.

Yet V-Adm Mudimu also said the navy had completed refurbishing its three remaining strike craft vessels and converted them to offshore patrol vessels.

The SAS Isaac Dyobha, SAS Makhanda, and SAS Galeshewe were built by Sandock Austral in Durban (now Southern African Shipyards) about 30 years ago. The same company won the contract to refurbish them.

The vessels were to be decommissioned in 2000, but a lack of funds and the snail-paced acquisition process for new patrol vessels prompted the decision to refurbish them.

With Sapa