South Africa has placed its warships on station in the Mozambican Channel to counter the problem of piracy at sea, which costs the world at least R85bn a year.
The country is one of the top 12 sea-trading nations in the world and that it has not yet been directly affected by piracy is thanks largely to the efforts of the SA Navy plus its geographic location at a recognised naval choke point.
The choke point is the Cape of Good Hope, which along with the Suez Canal and the Straits of Gibraltar are more easily defendable against maritime and naval incursions.
Piracy is the number one priority in terms of these incursions with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimating a direct loss of up to R85bn a year.
Since May last year Operation Copper, South Africa's ongoing anti-piracy deployment, has seen at least one South African warship on station in the Mozambican Channel at all times. Initially duties were confined to intelligence gathering and assisting the EU Naval Force (EUNavFor), based off the Horn of Africa, but this has since grown to board and search as well as being a more active player in the multinational task force's effort to end piracy off the continent's east coast.
The first South African ship to be an active part of a suspected pirate interdiction was SAS Drakensberg, the Navy's sole support ship. She took up station in April this year and was an essential cog in the machinery that allowed a "vessel of interest" to be turned back and into the waiting arms of EUNavFor ships.
IMO estimates acts of piracy worldwide, but centred off the African east coast in specifically Somalian waters costs the world economy up to R85bn a year in direct losses. Added to this are ransoms demanded by pirates for the release of ships and their crew, often running into tens of millions of US dollars. To this must be added hostage-taking off recreational yachts and motor vessels and associated ransom demands, also quoted as millions of US dollars, and more often than not, not made public.
Previously, then defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu laid the blame for piracy squarely at the door of Africa's colonial past. She told a SADC Defence Council meeting earlier this year Somalis, in particular, had taken to piracy to survive because the country's former colonial masters had stripped fish populations and made farming almost impossible.
South Africa, with arguably the strongest navy on the continent, has taken the lead in the SADC region to stop piracy.
This has led to the various memoranda of understanding including a trilateral one with Mozambique and Kenya.
Earlier this month Mozambique became the 20th country to sign the IMO anti-piracy code, the so-called Djibouti Code of Conduct. It was set up to develop regional capacity for counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean.
Other signatories are the Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, the Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania and Yemen.
The review also makes provision for the exercise of jurisdiction, conducting investigations and prosecution.
Source: The New Age