OPERATION COPPER - MARITIME SECURITY ON THE MOZAMBICAN CHANNEL

The need for effective maritime security in Southern Africa's waters saw the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deploying several naval and air assets to Mozambique's northern port town of Pemba. Piracy has been rife in Somalia, the Seychelles and Kenya but has now been moving towards Southern Africa.

The SA Navy company, SAS Mendi, deployed off the coast with Mozambique in its first anti-piracy operation. South Africa got involved in anti-piracy operations following a call for assistance from Mozambique. In December 2010, a Mozambican fishing vessel, Vega 5, was hijacked by Somali pirates, bringing the piracy threat to South Africa's doorstep In response to this, South Africa deployed war ships to northern Mozambique. The deployment included a C47TP maritime patrol aircraft provided by the SA Air Force, a Super Lynx maritime surveillance helicopter and 377 military personnel. The Mozambican Navy provided support for Operation Copper by providing divers and other logistical needs.

South Africa's frigates are now maintaining a permanent presence in the northern Mozambique Channel on a rotation basis. SAS Mendi went as far as the Mozambique/ Tanzania border with its patrols and set the record of the longest sea operation, spending 115 days in the water. She was relieved by SAS Amatola who returned to Simon's Town on 19 September 2011 from a four month deployment off the coast of East Africa. Until recently, SAS Isandlwana was patrolling the Southern African waters since December 2011 and will soon be returning to sea to continue with the maritime patrol mission.

South Africa is also helping strengthen navies from neighbouring countries, such as the Mozambican Navy. Its personnel are receiving training from the SA Navy in Simon's Town. Piracy impacts negatively on the affected countries' economies as 80% of Southern Africa's imports and exports are transported by means of the sea. The success of Operation Copper is evident in that there have been no further pirate attacks in Southern African waters, the local fishing fleets are back at sea and tourism is flourishing again because of the increased security.

As part of efforts to put an end to piracy South Africa IS also encouraging its neighbours to prosecute and sentence arrested pirates. Southern African Development Communities (SADC) countries are now finalising an agreement on prosecution. Depending on which part of the sea the pirates are caught in, they will be prosecuted within the borders of that country. The maritime strategy for securing waters, drafted by South Africa, has been adopted by SADC and it is hoped that the same strategy will be adopted for Africa Operation Copper is on-going.

A message from the department:

“The current practice of ‘catch-and-release’ of pirates should be stopped since it allows experienced pirates to execute more sophisticated acts of piracy. Therefore SADC should strengthen and harmonise regional and domestic legal frameworks for arrest, awaiting trial detention, prosecution and imprisonment or repatriation of pirates”
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu.