Incidents of Maritime Lawlessness Justify Navy's Acquisition of Frigate Quartet
Braving inclement weather last Saturday morning, Lieutenant-Commander Zamo Sithole guided a contingent of shipping photographers around Simon's Town harbour.
With an agreeable blend of diplomacy, patience and enthusiasm, the amiable Lt-Cdr Sithole, who hails from KwaZulu-Natal, was a credit to the Navy.
Between showers of rain, the focus of the lenses of the group was the visiting Pakistani flotilla - the frigate Badr and the replenishment vessel Nasr - that sailed for home via Reunion Island.
Badr's silhouette is familiar to those who follow naval matters. One of eight vessels in the Amazon class built for the Royal Navy in the 1970s, she was formerly HMS Alacrity and was involved in the Falklands war in 1982.
She was more fortunate than her sistership Antelope, which was hit by two bombs, neither of which exploded, but lodged within the vessel.
However, as a bomb-disposal squad was attempting to defuse one of the bombs, it exploded, setting the ship on fire and she later blew up in a series of spectacular explosions as the fire reached her magazines. Miraculously, the only person killed was a member of the bomb-disposal squad.
Another of the class, HMS Argonaut, was also hit by two Argentine bombs that, although causing fires and killing two men, did not explode.
The recent visit was the fourth by Pakistani warships. During the 1967-75 Suez closure, a Pakistani submarine entered Simon's Town to land an ailing matelot, while Babur - one of six of these frigates that the Pakistanis had bought from Britain - and the tanker Moawin came for the South African Navy's 75th anniversary celebrations. In the interim, another flotilla also called.
As these frigates are ageing, Pakistan has ordered four replacements from Chinese yards and another three will be built in Karachi.
In 1979, the Chinese built Nasr, one of a quartet of replenishment tankers known by a class with an interesting name that, if I had uttered the word as a child, my dear mother would certainly have washed my mouth out! Two of the class still operate for the Chinese Navy while the other sistership has become a merchant ship.
The Pakistani visitors - as well as SAS Amatola and SAS Isandlwana which also sailed from Simon's Town on Saturday morning - headed out of False Bay into the heavy swell generated by the cold front that moved through the Western Cape on Friday evening. The second vessel to come from German yards, Isandlwana will be commissioned formally in Durban this week.
Pakistani naval ships are operating off the Somali coast as part of an international anti-piracy force.
The Namibian authorities would have wanted a naval presence off their coast last week when the small containership Michael S (ex-Umfolozi) beetled out of the Walvis Bay anchorage in defiance of a court detention order. She was not a South African ship as mentioned in some media reports, and I doubt whether she was actually "stolen".
Until her unfortunate sinking after colliding with the South African dredger Ingwenya in Walvis Bay last September, Umfolozi was chartered by her German owners to the Durban-based Ocean Africa Container Line, a joint venture between Unicorn and Safmarine that provides a coastwise container service within the Luanda-Mombasa range of ports. She was renamed by her current owner, who bought her at some stage during her refloating and refit.
Legal beagles representing various interests in Namibia and the South African National Port Authority - the owners of the dredger that was on charter to Namport at the time of the collision - are scanning the global networks for the ship, which will be detained if she calls at any reputable port.
My dockland ears hear that her official papers are still in Walvis Bay, compounding her difficulties.
The Namibian police will want to have more than a friendly chat with those responsible for the ship's premature sailing. By running for the open sea, her master defied a high court order; the ship sailed - allegedly - with outstanding debts, and t
here are also allegations of maltreatment of security guards placed on board the ship.
Considering the circumstances surrounding her departure from Walvis Bay, Michael S could also be the subject of an international security alert - besides the usual tracking of an errant ship by lawyers and their cohorts. Indeed, what an opportunity for a sinister group to acquire a ship on the cheap for nefarious purposes! Now there is the making of a Wilbur Smith novel.
Farley Mowat, the controversial whaler-stopper vessel that was arrested in Cape Town earlier this year, also provoked discussion when she sneaked out of port under cover of darkness a month ago. "With the port's fancy tracking system," asked many, "how can a detained ship sail without being detected?"
Others ponder the whereabouts of her official papers, which should have been confiscated when she was detained. Perhaps a blind eye was turned to rid the port of this vessel whose master concluded an address to shipping types at the yacht club last month by peeling off his jacket to reveal a T-shirt proclaiming the names of vessels his organisation boasts to have damaged!
Like those aboard Michael S, he will have difficulty in explaining his ship's hasty departure from Cape Town when he arrives at his next port.
With incidents of maritime lawlessness coming closer to home, the acquisition of the frigate quartet is more easily justified.
With acknowledgements to Brian Ingpen and Cape Times.