Southern African Development Community (SADC) Chiefs of Defence and Intelligence are holding a ground-breaking meeting in Pretoria to thrash out a comprehensive regional maritime strategy against piracy.
Delivering her address to the SADC Defence and Security Council and Senior Staff Council meeting on a Regional Anti-Piracy Strategy, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that as SADC’s coastlines did not fall within patrol areas of the international anti-pirate forces, SADC would have to take responsibility for its own maritime security.
Sisulu said the event that triggered the joint action was when pirates attacked ships off Mozambican waters in December 2010. She said:
"We knew a raw nerve had been struck when our economic sustainability interests as a region were threatened when a Mozambican registered vessel was hijacked in December 2010 – and a Liberian registered merchant vessel in January 2011. These were the first incidents of this nature in southern Africa and reflected the extent to which pirates have increased their range towards southern Africa waters."
Sisulu pointed out that as much as 90% of Africa’s trade came from the sea and that at least 30% of the world’s oil supply passed through the Mozambique Channel each year. (The Mozambique Channel lies between that nation and the large island of Madagascar.)
SADC maritime security and SADC’s ability to trade by sea with other nations is inextricably linked to economic growth and prosperity, she said.
Sisulu stressed that quality intelligence was critical to any strategy to combat piracy. Speaking in broad terms, she outlined the crucial elements for such a strategy as involving all members contributing within their means, robust rules of engagement being in place, all member states ratifying or acceding to international maritime conventions and incorporating them into their national law. She added that the current practice of “catch-and-release” of pirates should be stopped, as it allowed experienced pirates to execute more sophisticated acts of piracy.
“Maritime security is a regional concern to all SADC Member States. Both SADC coastal states and SADC land-locked states are equally dependant on maritime trade. In many instances, SADC Maritime security is not only linked to trade, but also to other important aspects of their economy such as commercial fishing and tourism. SADC countries, even land-locked countries, are dependent on maritime trade for economic prosperity.”
According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks on the world’s seas totalled 266 in the first six months of 2011, up from 196 incidents in the same period in 2010. More than 60% of the attacks were by Somali pirates, a majority of which were in the Arabian Sea area. At the end of June, Somali pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew, and demanding ransoms of millions of dollars for their release. At present, about 50 warships from 27 countries with a total strength of 10,000 personnel, excluding the U.S. 5th Fleet forces, are patrolling the vast area off the Horn of Africa.
The Valour Class frigate, SAS Spioenkop, is a sister ship of the SAS Mendi which is deployed in the Mozambique Channel.
South Africa has responded to the threat against SADC shipping by sending a Valour-class frigate with its attached helicopter and also maritime patrol aircraft to cut off pirate attempts to dominate the Channel.