Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2007-09-05 Reporter: Graeme Hosken

SA Navy and Nato Play War Games



The Star




Graeme Hosken

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Exercise to allow teaming up in future

South Africa's naval force is leading the charge in the opening of a multinational naval exercise held off the south-western coast of Africa.

The combined exercise between the SA Navy and Nato's Standing Maritime Group 1 (NSMG1) began on Monday with formation manoeuvres off the Western Cape.

NSMG1 is one of Nato's four immediate-reaction maritime forces that can respond quickly to crisis situations, and is able to protect maritime interests the world over.

The group is a key element of the organisation's response force and has seven missions, including counter-terrorism, non-combat evacuation and humanitarian relief operations.

The exercise, conducted 15 miles out to sea, forms part of the NSMG1's two-month exercise, with six Nato warships circumnavigating the African coast over the next two months.

Leading the six-nation squadron is South Africa's newly acquired Heroine submarine the SAS Charlotte Maxeke and the Miko class frigates, the SAS Amatola and SAS Isandlwana.

The exercise involves several warfare tasks, with some of the world's best naval forces being pitted against South Africa as they strive to outmanoeuvre and outgun each other in mock sea battles using submarines, warships, helicopters and fighter jets.

The exercises, said NSMG1 commander Rear-Admiral Michael Mahon, are aimed at demonstrating the capability of Nato forces and the SA Navy to operate together, developing integration and inter-operability skills.

"These exercises will allow co-operation in possible future combined exercises and operations," he said. One of the aims of the group's circumnavigation of Africa was to gain an awareness of the threats and challenges to maritime security in the Southern Atlantic and Indian Ocean, Mahon added.

"Much of Africa's extensive coastline is unguarded. Drug smuggling, illegal immigration, piracy and attacks on oil installations are increasing sharply, and national and international law enforcement agencies are making little progress in stemming the tide.

"Recently the World Food Programme expressed grave concerns for the safety of ships carrying aid to Somalia as a result of acts of piracy," he said.

Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent said: "We are seeing a worrying trend of threats to maritime security. It is deeply embarrassing that, in the 21st century, ships carrying corn are being threatened, not by missiles, but by pirates.

"Nato maritime forces have a crucial role to play monitoring what is going on in the maritime domain and compiling a picture of the movement of vessels, shipping patterns and activities," he said.

The International Maritime Bureau reports that piracy attacks and armed robbery against ships in the second quarter of 2007 jumped by 37% compared to the same period in 2006.

A high number of pirate attacks took place off the coasts of Nigeria and Somalia, where little if any law enforcement is in place.

Burnell-Nugent said the NSMG1 would conduct surveillance and "presence operations" in the Gulf of Guinea and off the Horn of Africa.

"Building a comprehensive picture of everything associated with the maritime domain that could impact on global security enables a powerful coalition of nations and military and civil agencies to effect an international response," he added.

With acknowledgements to Graeme Hosken and The Star.