Navy in deep wa­ter as op­er­a­tional cri­sis bites

Bulk of bud­get goes on salaries, leav­ing lit­tle to main­tain fleet

Sunday Times - - News Navy Blues - By BOBBY JOR­DAN

● The cash-strapped South African Navy is lit­er­ally fall­ing apart and has run out of money to keep its ves­sels at sea.

Pro­cure­ment prob­lems meant none of the three arms-deal sub­marines could dive or be de­ployed on mis­sions in the 2017/2018 fi­nan­cial year. Nor could any of the four frigates be used on anti-piracy duty, re­sult­ing in re­liance on three 40-year-old ves­sels.

That is the navy’s own bleak as­sess­ment, in a writ­ten re­ply from sec­re­tary of de­fence Lieu­tenant-Gen­eral Vusumuzi Ma­sondo to parliament’s de­fence port­fo­lio com­mit­tee. The doc­u­ment con­firms an op­er­a­tional cri­sis de­spite the R12bn arms-deal naval pro­cure­ment pack­age, which was sup­posed to im­prove SA’s off­shore ca­pa­bil­ity.

In­stead, a crip­pling main­te­nance and re­pair bill and dwin­dling bud­get largely spent on salaries mean the fleet is un­able to ef­fec­tively pa­trol the coun­try’s off­shore ter­ri­tory.

At the time of the arms deal, crit­ics warned that main­te­nance would chew up money bet­ter in­vested in so­cial devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly given the fact that SA faced no im­mi­nent mil­i­tary threat.

In its replies to Kobus Marais, the DA de­fence spokesper­son, the de­fence depart­ment re­vealed:

● In 2017/2018, the navy man­aged only 6,046 hours at sea, just over half its 12,000-hour tar­get;

● It re­ceived only R393m for main­te­nance and re­pairs, 11.9% of the R3.295bn needed;

● It had to rely on three ob­so­lete ships to ful­fil in­ter­na­tional pa­trol obli­ga­tions, re­sult­ing in “con­stant op­er­a­tional de­fects”; and

● Its main syn­chro­lift — re­quired to lift sub­marines and smaller war­ships out of the wa­ter for main­te­nance — re­quired re­pair, ad­ding to se­ri­ous ca­pac­ity prob­lems at its main dock­yard in Si­mon’s Town.

The de­fence depart­ment ex­pressed frus­tra­tion and said the past year was par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing due to de­lays in cru­cial re­fits and re­pairs.

“Due to the spe­cialised na­ture of the re­quire­ments and long lead times for man­u­fac­ture and de­liv­ery, and with the engines and many other spares hav­ing to be or­dered from abroad, the spares could not be de­liv­ered as well as in­stalled and tested dur­ing fi­nan­cial year 2017/18,” it said.

“The op­er­a­tional de­fects there­fore per­sisted and led to the non-avail­abil­ity of most ves­sels to pro­ceed to sea.

“The South African Navy did not have any sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tionally avail­able for de­ploy­ment whilst it awaited the pro­cure­ment of spare parts [new ball valves] re­quired for div­ing op­er­a­tions.”

Navy spokesper­son Com­man­der Greyling van den Berg told the Sun­day Times that re­pairs to one sub­ma­rine had since been com­pleted. “The safety of our per­son­nel at sea is non-ne­go­tiable and there are min­i­mum seago­ing stan­dards which the navy will not com­pro­mise on,” he said.

Bud­get and main­te­nance is­sues have also af­fected de­ploy­ment of new board­ing ves­sels, de­liv­ered three years ago for R23m. They are still be­ing “in­te­grated” into the new frigates due to com­pli­ca­tions with davits — mo­bile cranes — used to lift them on board.

The short­age of naval pa­trols has prompted concern at the South African Mar­itime Safety Au­thor­ity (Samsa), which is con­cerned about its far-flung Prince Ed­ward Is­lands in the South At­lantic.

“Samsa may be able to de­tect or iden­tify ‘prob­lem ves­sels’ but we do not have as­sets [ves­sels or air­craft] to in­ves­ti­gate,” said spokesper­son Karl Otto. “This is where the [de­fence force, navy], depart­ment of agri­cul­ture, forestry & fish­eries, depart­ment of en­vi­ron­ment af­fairs and [the po­lice] are ex­pected to rise to the oc­ca­sion. But alas, our as­sets are ex­tremely lim­ited.”

De­fence con­sul­tant Hel­moed Heit­man said SA had a com­mit­ment to pa­trol its ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone. “We should be pa­trolling the is­lands and I be­lieve the French have com­plained that we do not, with the re­sult that some ves­sels skulk in our wa­ters while their pa­trol ves­sel is nearby and then zip into [French] wa­ters to fish,” he said.

The French con­sulate did not re­spond to the Sun­day Times’s ques­tions, and Van den Berg de­nied there was a rift with Paris. The navy was still pa­trolling the Prince Ed­ward Is­lands, he said, though in­fre­quently due to the cost.

A mar­itime ex­pert said it took a ves­sel about a week to travel the 2,200km from Si­mon’s Town to the is­lands, at an es­ti­mated R200,000 a day.

The DA’s Marais said the navy’s ca­pa­bil­ity cri­sis was a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment and a breach of the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment to pro­tect SA’s bor­ders. “It is a shock­ing state of af­fairs,” he said.

Up to 75% of the mil­i­tary bud­get was spent on hu­man re­sources in the first quar­ter of this fi­nan­cial year. “The pri­or­ity of spend­ing is ab­so­lutely wrong,” Marais said.

Van den Berg said navy staffing had re­mained at about 7,000 for close on 20 years due to fi­nan­cial con­straints. “We are not writ­ing our own che­ques,” he said.

Shaded red area shows SA’s search and res­cue re­gion re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.