THE South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is considering the expansion of antipiracy patrols in the Mozambican Channel to include Tanzania, despite the barrage of criticism of the government over the force’s inadequate funding.
The antipiracy patrols, which are conducted in conjunction with the Mozambican navy, were approved by the Cabinet in 2010 after a request by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) for South Africa to help thwart piracy from escalating in the region’s areas in the Indian Ocean and damaging trade.
Brig Gen Xolani Mabanga said on Sunday that the South African Navy offshore patrol vessels were rotated on a monthly basis. One had been relieved last week and another frigate would be replace d at the end of this month.
He said while one was in operation in the Mozambican Channel, another conducted combat and mission readiness exercises out of Simon’s Town.
Gen Mabanga said no arrests had been made by the Sadc force during the past six months, but the SANDF took pride in the deterrent effects of its presence in the Mozambican Channel. Piracy activities peaked in 2011 when 147 attacks and 22 pirated vessels were reported in the region.
"The African Union efforts ashore in Somalia and the combined international naval effort and presence at sea have reduced piracy activity to the current state of only two attacks with no successful vessel hijacking conducted in the past few weeks.
"We believe that the presence of Sadc naval force in the area contributed greatly to this reduction in piracy activities on the eastern African seaboard," he said.
But the defence force has seen a number of the South African Air Force’s R2bn fleet of Agusta 109 helicopters join the Gripen fighter jets in cold storage due to a lack of funds to fly them, while VIP helicopter flights continue to fuel public outrage.
Defence analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman last month bemoaned the fact that the army was overstretched and some of its equipment obsolete, saying the navy could patrol South African waters or the Mozambique Channel but not both, let alone important West African shipping routes; and that the air force had no maritime patrol aircraft and inadequate airlift capabilities.
Brig Gen Mabanga claimed the antipiracy success was due to the introduction of Integrated Maritime Domain Awareness centres in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. The maritime forces were now able to create an operational picture of which vessels were operating in the region, where they were and for what purpose.
He admitted the SANDF was now concerned about "a dramatic increase in piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea" off the west coast of Africa. "The situation is being closely monitored by neighbouring Sadc countries."