6/11/2011 Members of the SANDF's special task force prepare to board the SAS Drakensberg during a defence force readiness exercise off the country's west coast Picture: Thobile Mathonsi


The South African Navy has helped nab pirates off Africa's notorious eastern coastline, helping drive a pirate vessel into the hands of South Africa’s waiting military allies – and freeing captive hostages.

The South African Navy ship, the SAS Drakensberg, is on patrol off Mozambique’s northern coastline, as part of Operation Copper, a collaboration between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania.

“It all started with an unsuccessful pirate attack on a Filipino merchant vessel last Friday at the Northern end of the Mozambican Channel.

The SAS Drakensberg, with anti-piracy assets onboard, was already conducting patrol duties in the Mozambican Channel at that time,” the navy said in a statement on Tuesday.

“During the Monday morning, a French aircraft located the suspected pirate mother ship off the Tanzanian coast and moving in a Northerly direction.

“The pirate mother ship, with a skiff in tow, was identified as the Sri Lankan fishing vessel Nimesha Duwa, which was captured by pirates on November 9.

“By Monday afternoon, the Tanzanian Navy had provided permission to the SANDF to conduct anti-piracy operations within its territorial waters and the hunt was on.”

In the days that followed, the SAS Drakensberg and its SA Air Force scoured the Tanzanian coastline. The European and Tanzanian vessels were closing in from the north while the SAS Drakensberg forced the pirate vessels to escape to the North into the waiting arms of the Tanzanian forces.

“By midday on Wednesday, the concerted pressure of the search efforts had forced the pirates to split up and the skiff with five suspected pirates was located on Songo Songo Island and they were arrested by Tanzanian authorities.

“Wednesday evening saw units from four different countries closing in on the estimated position of the pirate mother ship. The Spanish warship got there first and managed to capture the vessel by 8.30pm. Seven pirates were apprehended and the six long suffering Sri Lankan crew members were finally freed.”

The suspected pirates were all handed over to the Tanzanian authorities who will now start with the “legal minefield” of prosecuting them for crimes committed in international waters. The navy said this operation proved the worth of SA’s involvement in trying to keep Africa’s east coast pirate free.

“In the end, it seems clear that a loud message has gone out that SANDF forces, as part of SADC armed forces, will not allow illegal activities within SADC waters. It is also clear that the Tripartite agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the subsequent deployment of SADC forces to safeguard our sea lanes, is paying off dividends in ensuring the safety of our seafarers and their precious cargoes.

“To the sailors and air crew of the SAS Drakensberg, the operational planners of Chief of Joint Operations and all others involved; we salute your valiant efforts!” the navy said. - Cape Argus