Durban Naval Station Transformation
South Africa’s maritime is receiving much-needed attention to ensure it can manage the escalating security challenges in the region. On the agenda, is the South African Navy’s historic Naval Station on Salisbury Island in Durban, which is undergoing a massive revamp to transform it into a functioning Naval Base.
Spokesperson for the SA Navy, Cdr P.G. van den Berg, stated that the footprint of the SA Navy in Durban will continue to grow. Durban is not only the busiest commercial port in SA, but a strategic location for the SA Navy allowing ease of access to the east coast of South Africa, Africa, and the Indian Ocean enabling the navy to readily assist with maritime operations.
According to SA Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the upgrade will also contribute towards the ocean economy under Operation Phakisa: “This initiative is significant, considering 50% of our trade is through the blue economy. The SANDF and South Africa will be making contributions to the ocean economy in this regard and further increasing capacity as an integral part and leader in Indian Ocean navies.”
The SA Navy was deeply affected by budget cuts in 2002 when the Durban Naval Base on Salisbury Island was downgraded to a Naval Station. However, the Navy began rethinking the station when a surge in piracy made patrolling the Mozambique Channel from Naval Base Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula ineffective. At the groundbreaking ceremony in December 2015, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stated that: “It is a process to reverse what happened in the past, when there was a decision to downscale and eventually close what was then a budding navy facility and move all the facilities to Simon’s Town. We are now wiser.”
The upgraded Durban Naval Base will play home-port to the Inshore and Offshore Patrol vessels to be acquired under Project Biro. The plan is to increase the base’s workshop and dockyard capacity to perform all required docking and essential defects (DEDs) and planned maintenance for the patrol vessels. Rear Admiral Bubele Mhlana, Flag Officer Fleet, stated that they would like to avoid ships that are home-ported in Durban coming down to Simon’s Town for maintenance. Project Biro is currently on hold, according to Armscor Chief Executive Kevin Wakeford, due to a review of the budget before a decision on the continuation of the contracting process is made. The situation is similar for the replacement of SAS Protea, the SA Navy’s hydrographic vessel (Project Hotel).
The upgrade has not been without its challenges and the Navy is struggling to regain access to buildings it lost fifteen years ago. Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane, Chief of the SA Navy, stated that around R200 million is needed to upgrade the facilities and redeploy personnel back to Durban. Although a large undertaking, the newly upgraded Durban Naval Base together with Naval Base Simon’s Town will better position the SA Navy to cover both the west and east coast of South Africa, the region, and will contribute to Operation Phakisa by protecting SA’s territorial waters and maritime resources.
Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA