25 April 2012
SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL DEFENCE FORCE ANTI PIRACY EFFORTS PAYS DIVIDENDS
Unknown to the public at large, a major multi-National anti-piracy operation took place off the East coast of our neighbouring SADC countries during the past week. South African Navy ship the SAS DRAKENSBERG played a major role in this operation.
It all started off with an unsuccessful pirate attack on a Filipino merchant vessel last Friday at the Northern end of the Mozambican Channel. At about the same time, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Dar Es Salaam raised concern regarding the safety of a South African owned yacht, the DANDELION, en route from the French Island of Mayotte to the Mozambican port of Pemba.
By Sunday, the French Navy, who takes responsibility for this area in terms of Search and Rescue, had requested the SANDF to assist in search efforts.
The SAS DRAKENSBERG, with anti-piracy assets onboard, was already conducting patrol duties in the Mozambican Channel at that time. This SANDF operation is part of an inter-governmental agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania to safeguard SADC sea lanes from piracy and has seen SA Navy ships constantly deployed in that area for the past year. The South African ship immediately commenced with a search for the missing yacht with the assistance of its embarked helicopter and a French Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
During the Monday morning, the French aircraft located the suspected pirate mother ship off the Tanzanian coast and moving in a Northerly direction.
The pirate mother ship, with a skiff in tow, was identified as the Sri Lankan fishing vessel NIMESHA DUWA which was captured by pirates on 9 November last year.
At midday on Monday, the South African yacht was located off Pemba having been delayed after suffering technical difficulties. The operation now changed from a Search and Rescue mission to a piracy interdiction operation. European naval units participating in the anti-piracy Operation ATALANTA off the coast of Somalia, the Tanzanian Navy out of Dar Es Salaam, as well as the SAS DRAKENSBERG were being controlled via three different Headquarters in a coordinated multi-national operation.
By Monday afternoon, the Tanzanian Navy had provided permission to the SANDF to conduct anti-piracy operations within its territorial waters and the hunt was on.
During the next 24 hours, an intensive search was conducted by the SAS DRAKENSBERG and its SAAF helicopter along the cluttered Tanzanian coast. European and Tanzanian vessels were closing in from the North. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions hampered the search effort. However, the plan remained for the SAS DRAKENSBERG to force the pirate vessels to escape to the North into the waiting arms of the Tanzanian and European Union forces.
By midday on Wednesday, the concerted pressure of the search efforts had forced the pirates to split up and the skiff with 5 suspected pirates were located on Songo Songo Island and subsequently arrested by Tanzanian authorities.
Wednesday evening saw units from four different countries closing in on the estimated position of the pirate mother ship. The Spanish warship got there first and managed to capture the vessel by 20:30. Seven suspected pirates were apprehended and the six long suffering Sri Lankan crew members were finally freed.
The SAS DRAKENSBERG spent Wednesday night in the area to assist Tanzanian forces if so required. The suspected pirates have by now all been handed over to the Tanzanian authorities who will now start with the legal minefield of prosecuting them for crimes committed in International waters.
In the end, it seems clear that a loud message has gone out that SANDF forces, as part of SADC armed forces, will not allow illegal activities within SADC waters. It is also clear that the Tripartite agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the subsequent deployment of SADC forces to safeguard our sea lanes, is paying off dividends in ensuring the safety of our seafarers and their precious cargoes. To the sailors and air crew of the SAS DRAKENSBERG, the operational planners of Chief of Joint Operations and all others involved; we salute your valiant efforts!