The Salisbury Island naval base in Durban harbour is to be reopened to serve navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique channel and up the east coast.

The naval base is to be re-opened on Salisbury Island in the Durban harbour, 12 years after it was closed in a massive downscaling of the navy owing to government cost-cutting.

This comes at a time when the navy has admitted it is unable to protect the coastline or patrol international waters because of problems in the dockyard in Simon’s Town

At a media briefing in Simonstown yesterday, chief of the navy, Vice-Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, said the Durban base was urgently needed to fight piracy along the east coast of Africa.

Navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique channel and up the east coast needed a base from which to operate.

Asked when the base would be ready, Mudimu said it was needed “yesterday” but did not put an actual date on its completion.

Admiral Kasaval Naidoo, who is spearheading the process, said pirate activity meant resources had to be moved around.

“We were forced into a situation where we had to down- scale. The situation hasn’t changed but the threats have changed and we need to upscale to a base so we can increase our presence,” he said.

Mudimu said the base would have a maritime squadron.

More than likely three vessels would be based at Salisbury Island, each with 48 members.

Salisbury Island currently falls under the Department of Public Works with the army occupying much of the old navy accommodation.

Naidoo said the navy was negotiating with the army to recoup some of this space.

He said the decision was a major boost for Durban as ships would need to be refuelled and restocked.

In Simon’s Town the capacity of the naval dockyard to support navy ships had become a major problem, Mudimu said.

The dockyard had not been able to attract the skills needed to fully maintain and service the fleet. The navy was seeking to take over the management of the facility, which had been run by arms procurer Armscor since September 2007.

“One is told that under the old dispensation, we had these capabilities in South Africa,” Mudimu said.

“Today, if we want to fix any of our systems, we are foreign-dependent.

“The turnaround is very, very long.”

For the navy to stay afloat, it needed to have a working dockyard.

“We have never recovered from the retrenchments that took place at the dockyard, even long before integration, and after,” he said.

Director Fleet Logistics Monde Lobese said ineffectiveness in the dockyard had a “100 percent direct impact on the navy business of protecting the country”.

“We need to be able to produce (in the dockyard) otherwise we won’t be able to meet our national and international obligations,” he said.

Ships were spending time tied up instead of being at sea.

During the briefing Chief Director Maritime Strategy Hanno Teuteberg said:

* One of the four frigates was operational. The SAS Amatola was in operation but the other three SAS Spioenkop, Isandlwana and Mendi were undergoing maintenance.

* Out of eight patrol ships only three were available. The SAS Galeshewe, Umdloti and Umzimkulu were operational but the other five were being refitted or maintenance was being done.

* Out of four submarines, only one was operational. The SAS Charlotte Maxeke was available but work was being done on the other three. - The Mercury