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South African Navy to take on pirates and mercenaries

The South African Navy is planning to send a force to patrol the Mozambican Channel to counter the threat of attack on ships by east African pirates. The force is to comprise at least one of South Africa’s frigates, believed to be the SAS Mendi, and a logistical support ship, which could see the force patrolling the channel for more than a month at a time.

On board the frigate will be members of the navy’s elite Maritime Reaction Force as well as helicopter aircrews who will act as eyes and ears. The deployment, which is believed to be scheduled to take place within the next two weeks, comes as the pirates, who are mainly from Somalia, become bolder and strike further from their bases. The planned deployments come as the South African naval support ship, the SAS Drakensberg, recently set sail for the Ivory Coast as part of what is believed to be a bigger African Union military build-up following the disputed elections in that country and the threat of violence to millions of people in that region. Reports from military analysts and piracy specialists indicate that this month alone two vessels have been attacked in the Mozambican Channel, which sees billions of dollars worth of trade passing through it every year.

The frigate SAS Mendi, docked in Durban, is being fitted out for deployment in an anti-piracy role in the Mozambique Channel.

While the defence force has remained mum on its preparations for deployments to Africa’s east and west coasts, analysts say it is happening, with several believing that it could be too little, too late. Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said yesterday that the deployments should have happened years ago.

“We should have done this years ago when we first received requests for help from the European Union, who warned us of the threat not only to shipping off the East coast of Africa, but also to shipping travelling through our waters,” he said. Heitman said the threats were real and serious. “Not only are they threatening the country’s economy, but they could also lead to an ecological disaster should the pirates successfully attack and possibly sink an oil tanker.” “Pirates see areas such as the Mozambican Channel as untapped gold mines. With the knowledge that there are very few African countries who can respond to attacks, the pirates know that they can operate without fear.”

Heitman said while the attacks could be dealt with, it would be difficult given the navy’s limited logistical capabilities. Institute of Security Studies military analyst Henri Boshoff said the response was not only a South African response but was part of a larger SADC military response to piracy.

“The government is keeping a tight lid on how it is going to respond to these latest attacks.” Boshoff said while South Africa’s navy had conducted operations in the Mozambican Channel area and off the country’s East Coast, the latest attacks had triggered a strong response from South Africa. Attempts to get comment from the Defence Department were unsuccessful.




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