Source: Pretoria News/ IOL
A massive South African naval intelligence-driven operation is under way to create specialised maritime surveillance centres around the country.
The Maritime Domain Centres (MDCs), which will be run from strategic locations in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, are part of a larger naval operation to increase maritime security capabilities along the country’s 3 000km coastline.
The joint international operation is part of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) regional maritime security strategy, launched in August.
With piracy rapidly approaching southern Africa’s waters and with 30 percent of the world’s oil being moved through the Mozambique Channel – through which 28 000 vessels a year pass – the rush is on to ensure that the country and region’s maritime surveillance capabilities are increased.
Set to come on line in April, the centres are to form part of the navy’s early warning security intervention system. They are to be run from Silvermine in Cape Town and the Bluff in Durban, which will be linked to a multisecurity agency centre in Pretoria’s Snake Valley.
Linked to maritime intelligence-gathering hubs in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Tanzania, Djibouti and Kenya, the centres will fall under the military’s defence intelligence.
The strategy, according to senior naval officers, involves the establishment of specialised SADC maritime units, the use of local populations as intelligence gatherers and the planned increased deployment of SA’s warships.
With four frigates and three submarines, the SA Navy, which is pursuing the acquisition of six patrol vessels, is working hand-in-hand with its neighbours to ensure the elimination of maritime security.
For Rear-Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, chief director of maritime strategy, it is now or never.
“With intelligence indicating that the threat is steadily moving south, with disastrous consequences, we have to act. The GDP of the Seychelles has dropped 30 percent because of pirate attacks on the country’s fishing vessels.
“Our plan is the creation of highly sophisticated MDCs linked to others across the continent.
“It is a monumental task, but for regional security it has to be done.
“The areas are covered with many sensors, radars, satellites and other resources which are providing information, but this information needs to be integrated to create the picture we need.
“With these centres we will be able to monitor all SADC maritime traffic with the objective being to provide actionable information to direct forces to where they are needed to prevent or effect arrests.
“With the adoption of SADC’s maritime strategy, we are developing, co-ordinating and harmonising policies and strategies to end our ‘sea blindness’.
“There are major threats posed against Africa from gun, drug and human traffickers to piracy, which have to be stopped.
“To put it bluntly, and there is no other way of doing it, to stop piracy in our waters we have to drive them north.
“By (our) deploying off the Somali coast all we will do is drive pirates east and south, which is not what we want.”
Rear-Admiral Karl Weisner, director of maritime warfare, said SADC’s maritime strategy would take place in three phases.
“The first priority is to control areas were there is an increase in pirate attacks, such as the Mozambican channel. Since our presence there last year there have been no attacks,” he said.
“The second priority is to ensure the security of the SADC’s west coast, especially around Angola, Namibia and the DRC, whose rich oil and gas wells will come on line within the next five years.
“The third priority is securing southern Africa’s vast rivers and lakes, such as the Congo River and Lake Tanganyika, which are vital to trade and development.”
Weisner said failure to carry out any of this would be catastrophic.
“If we did not have a presence in the Mozambique Channel we would have pirate attacks off Durban. It is that bad.
“To stop this scourge, we are adopting numerous strategies, including ‘coastal watchers’, where local populations report any suspicious people or incidents.
“This, along with strong partnerships with our SADC partners, who have supplied patrol vessels and extensive armed forces, has been remarkably effective.”
Navy chief Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu said the aim was to adopt SADC’s maritime strategy as a strategy for Africa.
By GRAEME HOSKEN