There has not been a South African Navy (SAN) presence in the busy east African seaboard channel for a number of months due to unavailability of suitable platforms. This saw the SAS Drakensberg tasked with anti-piracy patrol duties while frigates were busy with multinational exercises.
While the deployment has not been confirmed yet, reliable naval sources have indicated SAS Amatola will be next to take up station in the Channel. She took part in last year’s Atlasur and Ibsamar exercises and is currently undergoing final preparations for transit to and station in the Mozambique Channel.
A bland official statement from Navy headquarters in Pretoria noted, “early this year a Navy vessel will take up patrol duties in Mozambican waters. Specific details cannot be divulged for security reasons.”
The Navy has maintained anti-piracy patrol duties in the Mozambique Channel since early 2011 as part of Operation Copper.
Other elements of the SA National Defence Force’s anti-piracy effort include a 35 Squadron C-47TP maritime reconnaissance aircraft, a detachment from the Navy’s maritime reaction squadron and SA Army and SA Air Force support based at Pemba.
In May last year maritime reaction squadron member Able Seaman Thulani Mbuli became the first South African fatality in anti-piracy operations. He fell into the sea while disembarking the SAS Drakensberg ahead of inspection of an Iranian registered dhow, targeted as “a vessel of interest” by intelligence. Fellow squadron members attempted, unsuccessfully, to rescue him.