South African Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has confirmed that the country will increase its naval budget.
Answering a question from Engineering News Online at a press conference at the 2012 Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in Cape Town on Wednesday, Sisulu stated that the amount would be announced in her department’s budget.
“When we adopted the [Southern African Development Community (SADC)] Maritime Security Strategy, we committed ourselves to giving more money to the navy. This is a top priority for us.”
SADC heads of State adopted the SADC Maritime Security Strategy in Angola on August 9, 2011.
This comes against the backdrop of growing SADC concern about piracy and other forms of maritime crime and insecurity.
In her keynote address opening the conference, Sisulu pointed out that African countries were "particularly reliant on the sea and thereby vulnerable".
She highlighted that, in 2006, the global total of people taken hostage at sea was 186, but that in 2010 the figure for the Indian Ocean alone was 1 016.
She affirmed that the SADC was expecting increased pirate operations off its east coast.
During the 12 months from March 2011 to the end of February 2012, there were 57 pirate attacks in Tanzanian territorial waters, reported Sisulu, citing her Tanzanian counterpart. This was "an unprecedented number, but one that is indicative of the relocation of piracy to the SADC ocean".
She further reported that foreign, particularly European, States were asking South Africa to allow merchant ships with armed guards to enter this country's ports. "The world is taking to the option of onboard [armed] security," she said. "We are grappling with this development."
Sisulu appealed to the IONS delegates, who come from 86 countries (both Indian Ocean rim States and observer nations) to advise the South African government on the issue.
South Africa now has a trilateral agreement with Mozambique and Tanzania, which allows the South African Navy (SAN) to undertake operations in their waters. "This agreement allows us to conduct all activities aimed at strengthening SADC on the east coast," explained SAN Chief Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu to the press conference.
He gave the assurance that the anti-piracy operation, codenamed Copper, (and which involves the South African Air Force, Special Forces and South African Military Health Services as well as the SAN) is continuing uninterruptedly.
"Currently, in the Mozambique Channel, the SAS Drakensberg is taking over from the SAS Isandlwana," he revealed.
"The navy is tasked to patrol the northern Mozambique Channel ....[but] we can go all the way to Tanzania."
Although the SAS Drakensberg is primarily a tanker – it is officially designated a combat support ship by the SAN – Mudimu gave the assurance it would be effective in fulfilling the mission.
"The Drakensberg has been the workhorse of the navy," he highlighted. "Drakensberg will give us equal [anti-piracy] capability as the frigates."
All four of the SAN's frigates have now done anti-piracy patrols in the northern Mozambique Channel. "We're trying to involve as many assets as possible," said Mudimu.
* Keith Campbell is attending IONS 2012 as a guest of the SAN.