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article imageSouth African Navy Ready to Take on Somali Pirates Special

By Christopher Szabo     Apr 17, 2009 in World
The South African Navy, newly re-equipped with ultramodern frigates and strike craft, is ready to tackle piracy in the waters around Somalia, but is being held back by indecision on the part of government, according to media reports here.
However, despite calls from African countries and the World Food Program, the S.A. Navy has not yet deployed outside its own operational area.
In an email interview, Senior Liaison Officer Commander Prince Tshabalala said:
Protocol demands that our cabinet must be approached first via the United Nations. The UN will then approach the African Union and only then can the cabinet make a pronouncement on the matter.
As early as 2005, then Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils warned of the possible threat of piracy moving down the eastern and southern African coastlines:
Pirates, many of whom operate "phantom" ships disguised as vessels in distress, use intelligence operatives stationed at Richards Bay, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town harbours to feed organised crime syndicates with information detailing sailing times, destinations, routes, cargos and numbers of crew.
And in a news conference last December, Chief of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu explained that getting involved in the anti-piracy action was a complicated situation, because Somalia had no recognised government.
Commander Tshabalala explained further:
The current position is that our Minister of Defence, Mr Charles Nqakula, has engaged the cabinet about the issue and the decision is still yet to be taken.
With South Africa currently in the grip of election fever and the elections themselves coming up on Apr. 22, no immediate action can be expected. The S.A. Navy, however, has a special combat capability which was initially planned for inland waterways and coastal areas in support of peacekeepers, but which can be adapted to counter-piracy operations, according to Defenceweb.
This is the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS), which can support major naval assets in asymetrical warfare and can carry out operations, which use small boats and helicopters or other combinations, similar to the tactics used recently by the U.S. Navy against Somali pirates holding an American ship captain hostage in a small boat. The unit combines an Operational Boat Division (OBD) with a Reaction Force Division (RFD) and an Operational Diving Division (ODD) to achieve maximum effect.
SAS Spioenkop At Speed
SAS Spioenkop is a Valour-Class Frigate built in Germany and is equipped with anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft guns and uses the most modern radar and sonar equipment. It also carries a helicopter, which could be used in the anti-piracy role.
Photo SA Navy
The spokesman for the Navy’s main naval base in Simon’s Town, Lieutenant Commander Greyling van den Berg explained:
One of the capabilities that the MRS will give the S.A. Navy and the country at large will be the ability to conduct boarding operations at sea, among others. (MRS members) are trained to use small boats and helicopters while conducting these boarding operations. They will also be able to launch assaults from sea using small boats and helicopters and to establish a beachhead on a target area.
The most recent international law relating to the Somali piracy issue, according to Voice of America, is UN Security Council Resolution 1851 which allows international forces, acting with the permission of the Somali government, to "undertake all necessary measures in Somalia" against pirates. This would include ”hot pursuit” operations into towns giving shelter to the pirates.
Peacekeeping has become a cornerstone of South Africa’s foreign policy with the country participating throughout Africa in U.N. and African Union (A.U.) operations.
The S.A. Navy was reequipped following the end of Apartheid in with state of the art corvettes and frigates as well as new naval helicopters and submarines. Older vessels have also been upgraded. The navy is now fully equipped to fulfill its primary mission of defending the Cape Sea Route from all comers.
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