SA Navy wants to build its own ships

2012-03-17 07:29

The SA Navy is in discussion with its counterparts in Africa to create a capability to build ships on the continent instead of buying everything from western countries and Asia.

Chief of the SA Navy, Vice-Admiral Refiloe Mudimu revealed this on the sidelines of the SA Navy Festival under way in Simon’s Town outside Cape Town.

Mudimu said there was “greater willingness and readiness” from chiefs of other African navies to establish the capability to build ships because it had become expensive to maintain and repair ships bought outside the continent.

South Africa experienced first-hand how difficult it is to rely on European countries to build ships.

“Our frigates were built in Germany and if we need most of their components we’ve got to go to Germany. If an engine breaks now I must convert the rands to euros and then I can place an order. It becomes a challenge,” he said.

The Kenyan Navy also encountered problems when two of its patrol vessels required maintenance and needed to be returned to their country of origin, Italy, but needed €17 million for the service.

South Africa will not push its counterparts to choose the country as the manufacturer of the ships, said Mudimu.

“There’s a general consensus among the leadership of the continent to say ‘yes we need this’ but it has not been translated into who among all these role-players can give us that capability. Whoever has resources and the necessary infrastructure to do so; it can be built in Nigeria or Kenya we wouldn’t mind.”

But ideally “we want a ship that can be built in South Africa by South Africans in partnership with other people. That part must help the government with job creation”.

South Africa has demonstrated its capability by building the SAS Drakensberg, the largest naval vessel to be designed and built in Durban in 1984. It is still in use.

African countries buy their navy ships from different countries, making it difficult for the continent to help each other when encountering mechanical problems.

Mudimu said South Africa possessed the “know-how and infrastructure” to build the required ships.

“We are trying to say to our counterparts whatever we buy must be able to be maintained and repaired easily here in Africa. If Tanzania can say ‘we’ve got a small repair workshop, getting the spares will be easier, then it’s a good thing.”

South Africa began active involvement in anti-piracy operations after the government of Mozambique sought assistance from the SA Navy following the hijacking by Somali pirates of the Mozambican fishing vessel Vega 5 early last year.

Mudimu said African navies had been neglected for a long time because governments did not know the threats of piracy.

It is only in recent years that African countries realised the need for maritime security and the need for a “common platform” for the continent’s navies to fight piracy and imports of illegal goods.

“We came to the realisation that if we’re not at sea it means what we don’t patrol we don’t control,” said Mudimu.

The willingness to fight piracy without the necessary resources was like being a “toothless dog”.

The SA Navy Festival was open to the public yesterday and it will continue until tomorrow in Simon’s Town. 

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