South Africa Mulls Reopening Durban Naval Base to Tackle Piracy

South African frigate

South Africa is taking steps to tackle piracy in its surrounding waters, and is considering re-opening a former naval base in Durban for this purpose, says Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Salisbury Island, now joined to the mainland, is part of the Port of Durban. A full naval base until it was downgraded in 2002, it now contains a naval station and other military facilities.

Addressing a media briefing in Cape Town this week, Sisulu said the government’s strategy for tackling piracy in its surrounding waters might necessitate the re-opening of the base.

Salisbury Island was identified as a potential base at the meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) standing maritime committee in Durban last week, but costs had not yet been calculated.

One warship, ‘merely as a deterrent’

So far, South Africa has deployed one warship – the SAS Isandlwana – to tackle piracy off east and southern Africa. The frigate is supported by a number of on-board helicopters as well as by ground troops.

The South African Maritime Strategy, adopted by the Cabinet last year, is being piloted by South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique, and Sisuslu said the deployment of the Isandlwana was more a deterrent than anything else.

“We intend to start small because it’s going to be a very costly, very huge exercise,” Sisulu said.

South Africa has also signed a pact with Tanzania and Mozambique on maritime security co-operation, which would see the three countries working together to secure their respective territorial waters.

Policing waters ‘crucial for trade’

Sisulu said figures from two years ago by the International Maritime Bureau indicated that the cost of piracy was between R1-billion and R16-billion a year. Added to this, there had been 17 acts of piracy in Tanzania last year.

She said the sea was very important for intra-African trade, as 91% of goods traded between African countries were transported by sea, while the continent had 44 refineries in 25 countries.

This made it essential for African countries to police the continent’s waters, she said.

She said the department would be requesting that at least two percent of GDP be allocated to defence spending.

One idea, she said, was that those departments that could benefit from additional defence – such as Agriculture and Trade and Industry – could pool their resources.

Helping Somalia

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, also present at the briefing, said that in order to deal with piracy, it was important to tackle political problems on the ground.

Nkoana-Mashabane attended a meeting in London last Thursday, hosted by African Union security- council members, on how to work together with Somalis to return their country to normalcy.

She said South Africa had also pledged to make a donation of £10-million in the form of services and support to those in liberated zones in Somalia.

Somalia is the base for almost all of the pirates now active off east and southern Africa.