Mozambique: SA Navy Completes Patrols in Mozambique Channel

Maputo — Two South African navy vessels have completed a deployment in the northern Mozambican Channel as part of Operation Copper and will now return to base in Durban.

Operation Copper began in January 2011 to support the Mozambican defence force (FADM) in countering piracy in the Mozambican Channel. Since then the mandate has extended to include actions to target drug, arms, and human trafficking, as well as illegal fishing.

The two vessels involved were SAS Protea, a Hecla-class survey vessel and SAS Galeshewe, an Offshore Patrol Vessel. Both ships had members of the Mozambican defence force onboard during the patrols.

The two ships left Durban on 16 July and sailed to Pemba, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado. During the deployment, they remained operational at all times and did not enter port.

The ships used Pemba Bay as their base from which they independently conducted patrols. The smaller craft, SAS Galeshewe, patrolled the coast whilst SAS Protea went further out to sea.

No arrests were made during the three-week period, but according to a press release from the South African Navy, "this operation sends a warning to any criminal element that the SA Navy is ready to protect its territorial waters, as well as those of its neighbours".

Operation Copper was launched following a series of attacks by Somali pirates in the waters of the Mozambique Channel in December 2010 which culminated in the hijacking of the Mozambican fishing vessel, the "Vega 5'.

The "Vega 5", had a crew of 19 Mozambicans, three Indonesians and two Spaniards. The pirates took the ship to Somalia, where they modified it to become a "mother ship" used for attacks against shipping in the Arabian Sea.

It was not until March 2011 when some of the crew were rescued by the Indian Navy. An Indian fast attack craft, the "Kalpeni" fought a gun battle with the pirates, during which the "Vega 5" caught fire. The Indian sailors rescued from the water 61 pirates and 13 "Vega 5" crew members (12 Mozambicans and one Indonesian).

In April this year, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the extension of Operation Copper for another year. In a statement, he explained that "this extension of the employment is for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. The total expenditure expected to be incurred for the employment is R127,000,000" and added that it was to fulfil "the international obligations of the Republic of South Africa towards Southern African Development Community maritime security, in the Mozambique Channel".

At current exchange rates, 127 million South African rand is about 1.85 million US dollars. (AIM)

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