South Africa Has What it Takes to Meet Navy’s New Vessel Requirements

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South Africa’s shipbuilding industry says it is still capable of locally building the new vessels required by the South African Navy, with a number of local companies competing to build inshore and offshore patrol vessels for Project Biro.

A request for information for Biro-category vessels was issued last year and the navy expects to issue a request for quotations before the end of this year. The Navy also has the proposed Project Millennium landing dock ship requirement and Project Hotel requirement for a new hydrographic survey vessel.

Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, Chief Director Maritime Strategy of the South African Navy (SAN), told reporters at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium last week that a decision had been made on the ministerial level to build the Project Biro medium-sized vessels in South Africa. “And it’s written in the specs”, Teuteberg said, “so it’s very clearly understood by everybody. I have no doubt about it.”

gowind vessel e1334883514197 photo

Gowind Class offshore patrol vessel

For Biro, Nautic Africa (formerly KND Projects) is offering the Gowind class offshore patrol vessels, which, according to CEO James Fisher, “are the most modern vessels being offered to the Navy.”

In September last year it was announced that DCNS and KND Naval Design (which contracts work to Nautic Africa) had signed a memorandum of understanding for the promotion, construction and sale of Gowind vessels in South Africa. The Gowind class vessel L’Adroit is currently being trialled by the French Navy and will visit South Africa in September.

Fisher said he was excited about offering the Gowind class to the Navy as the Project Biro requirements match it perfectly. “We are very confident in our offering,” Fisher said, as Nautic Africa is a local company that produces vessels on time and budget.

For the Inshore Patrol Vessel (IPV) component of Biro, Nautic Africa has a partnership with Austal in Australia to built under license their Cape Class patrol vessels. Australia’s Customs and Border Protection service recently ordered eight of the type, which will be delivered in 2013, with the full fleet becoming operational in 2015.

cape class patrol boat photo

Australian designed Cape Class patrol boat

The 58 metre long Cape Class vessels will be able to undertake 28 day patrols, have a range of 4 000 nautical miles and simultaneously launch two boats. Armament comprises two deck mounted heavy machineguns. Top speed is 25 knots.

“It’s a commercial no-brainer that that business should be done in South Africa,” Fisher said, referring to Project Biro and other work. “We should be supplying all vessels in Africa at this stage.” Fisher was confident in the abilities of his company to produce vessels of European-standard quality, but at a 30% cheaper rate. However, he emphasised the fact that lifetime support is just as important – if not more so – than initial acquisition cost.

Fisher also said that Nautic Africa not only designs and constructs ships but also offers long-term support and assistance throughout the whole life cycle of a vessel, including training, construction, delivery, maintenance and overhaul. He said that many of the ships bought from Asia by African countries have shortcomings, especially with regard to maintenance and spares – indeed, Fisher believes this is the greatest shortcoming of many foreign vessels. Indeed, Teuteberg said that, “only 20 percent of the cost of an OPV is acquisition. Eighty percent goes into the life-cycle of that vessel. We have to ensure that we have the ability in South Africa, to maintain, redevelop if necessary, where necessary, in time.”

If a contract with the Navy is signed, Nautic Africa will partner with the MK Veteran’s Association, which is “a group that has been ignored,” according to Fisher. At the Defence Industry Day in Tshwane on March 22, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said she wants to see more military veterans employed in the local defence industry, in addition to increased Black economic empowerment.

She said the defence industry should look at ways and means to incorporate more military veterans into the industry’s economic stream by offering employment and/or training and by doing business with military veterans-linked organisations. “Before we give out any tender we should ensure that military veterans are taken care of.”

Outside of Africa, Fisher said he saw opportunity for Nautic Africa in Mozambique and Tanzania with the new oil and gas finds there. In addition, Nigeria and Ghana have bought 11 patrol/oil and gas support vessels from Nautic Africa and have another five on order. However, a big problem is the lack of funds hampering navies in the region, as many smaller countries in Africa cannot afford vessels to protect against piracy, illegal fishing and other challenges at sea. Indeed, the chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe Johannes Mudimu, said that a lack of vessels was the greatest challenge navies in the region faced when combating maritime insecurity. Nautic Africa hopes to overcome the financial barrier through financing packages.

In addition, Nautic Africa is busy refurbishing a South Africa Navy Namacurra class harbour patrol boat for Mozambique as part of the Navy’s initiative to strengthen the Mozambican navy. The SAN has also trained Mozambican personnel as South Africa seeks to control piracy and other maritime threats in the region.

Meanwhile, Southern African Shipyards is in partnership with Germany’s Lurssen to offer its vessels to the South African Navy. Prasheen Maharaj, Executive Director of the company said that the main offering for Biro is the Lurssen Patrol Vessel PV 80, with a length of 80 metres, a speed of 22 knots and a displacement of 1 625 t. The ship comes equipped with a flight deck and can launch and recover a boat from a stern dock. Four of these vessels have been built, including three for Brunei.

“We’re the biggest shipyard in southern Africa. We have the best capability without further investment,” Maharaj said, emphasising the company’s previous capabilities, including the construction of the SAS Drakensberg supply vessel and the Navy’s strike craft and minehunters. “We have the ability to meet South Africa’s shipbuilding needs.” However, he added that, “some of these needs require partnerships,” such as for the Biro requirement.

For Project Hotel, Maharaj said that his company is leaving itself open to be a local subcontractor to the preferred prime contractor.

SWATH photo

German Navy's SWATH vessel

Another local company, Veecraft Marine, has partnered with the German firm Abeking & Rasmussen for Projects Biro and Hotel. According to Friedrich Jacobi, Chief Representative of Abeking & Rasmussen, the partnership is offering its SWATH Offshore Patrol Boat. The Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) design features torpedo-like hull bodies that are submerged while the rest of the shp remains above water to provide excellent stability and high speeds in rough seas. Abeking & Rasmussen’s SWATH range features vessels from 25 to 75 metres in length.

Recently the company sold 25 metre long SWATH vessels to the Latvian Navy. The model has a crew of 8, endurance of 1 week, range of 1 000 nautical miles and a speed of 20 knots. Due to the twin-hull design, a 20 foot container with a maximum weight of 6 t can be mounted in between the hulls and changed within a couple of hours depending on the mission. Weapons options include two heavy machineguns and one 35 mm gun. The same model is being offered for the Inshore Patrol Vessel component of Biro while a 70 metre long vessel with a helicopter deck is being offered for the Offshore Patrol Vessel component.

If Veecraft/Abeking & Rasmussen receive contracts from the South African Navy, Abeking & Rasmussen will build the first ship in Germany to prove that all systems meet specifications, while the remainder of the ships will be built in South Africa.

Veecraft has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Navantia to market its Avante class offshore and inshore patrol vessels to the South African Navy. The Avante 3000 Patrol vessel has a length of 93 metres, accommodation for 70 people, a range of 8 000 nautical miles and an endurance of 35 days. A flight deck and hangar provide space for a medium helicopter while cranes can deploy and retrieve two rigid hull inflatable boats. Armament includes a 76/62 mm gun, two 25 mm weapons stations, and two 12.7 mm machine guns.

Apart from Biro, Southern African Shipyards is supplying two tugboats for the Simons Town naval base under Project Canter.

“It will be practicable to build all the patrol vessels in South Africa, to existing designs,” said Jane’s Information Group correspondent Helmoed Heitman. “That will reduce the negative impact of the expenditure and could establish a ship-building industry to support the offshore oil and gas industry in Africa.”