By Richard Davies
A sprinkling of holy water and a spray of champagne marked the naming of the first of South Africa's four new environmental protection vessels, the Lilian Ngoyi, in Cape Town harbour on Tuesday.
The ceremony took place on board the 47-metre patrol ship - named after the well-known struggle heroine - which had its red hull, grey deck and white superstructure decked out in signal flags for the occasion.
The christening was carried out by Maleshoane Mphahlele, Lilian Ngoyi's sister-in-law. Ngoyi, who rose to prominence during the defiance campaigns of the 1950s and 60s, died in 1980.
"I name this ship the Lilian Ngoyi. May God bless her and all who sail in her," Mphahlele intoned, before spraying the contents of a champagne bottle across the foredeck and assembled guests, including Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
A priest earlier blessed the ship, and sprinkled a phial of holy water on its bows.
The Lilian Ngoyi was built in Table Bay by South African shipbuilders Farocean Marine; the black empowerment company is also set to complete her two sister craft - the Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge - during the course of next year.
According to her captain, Ian Bosman, the Lilian Ngoyi has been fitted with "state-of-the-art" navigation equipment.
He told Sapa his vessel's primary task, once it is fully operational, will be to patrol South Africa's 200 nautical mile economic exclusion zone.
It will also provide help to other Southern African Development Community coastal nations, and could carry out search and rescue missions if required.
The Lilian Ngoyi is powered by two 2720kW diesel engines, and has a range of about 3500 nautical miles. She carries on board a rigid inflatable boat, which can be launched quickly if needed and is capable of speeds up to almost 40 knots.
Chief engineer Derek Lambert said the Lilian Ngoyi had handled well during recent sea trials, where it was discovered she could "turn on a tickey".
According to Bosman, the Lilian Ngoyi will have a crew of 12, plus three fisheries inspectors.
Speaking ahead of the christening ceremony, Van Schalkwyk said the new craft would play a crucial role in safeguarding South Africa's marine protected areas, and help crack down on poaching, over-fishing and the illegal discharge of fuel oil.
An ocean-going patrol ship, the 83-metre Sarah Baartman, will be delivered to South Africa in December this year. It was launched recently in Romania at that country's Damen shipyard.
With a crew of 29, plus seven fishery control officers, and range of 7500 nautical miles, it will be capable of operating for up to 45 days in the oceans south of Cape Town.
It is expected to play a key role in the protection of marine resources around Marion and Prince Edward islands. - Sapa