Cape Town - The Defence Department is taking steps to tackle piracy, and is considering re-opening a former naval base on Salisbury Island, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said today.
Sisulu told a media briefing in Parliament that the Durban base had been closed to save costs and operations moved to Simons Town, near Cape Town.
However, the adoption of a strategy by the government to tackle piracy in its surrounding waters necessitated the re-opening of the base, she said.
Salisbury Island, rather than the Durban naval base, had been identified as a base at the meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) standing maritime committee held in Durban over the past week, but costs had not yet been calculated.
The meeting, between chiefs of the various SADC members' navies, was one of the first of its kind in the regional grouping, she said.
So far, one warship - the SAS Isandlwana - had been deployed and was supported by a number of helicopters on board the frigate as well as by ground troops.
"We intend to start small because it's going to be a very costly, very huge exercise," said Sisulu.
South Africa has also signed a pact with Tanzania and Mozambique on maritime security co-operation, which would see the three countries working together to secure their respective territorial waters.
Sisulu said figures from two years ago by the International Maritime Bureau revealed that the cost of piracy was between R1 billion and R16 billion a year. Added to this, there had been 17 acts of piracy in Tanzania last year.
She said the sea was very important for trade as 91% of goods traded between African countries were transported by sea, while the continent had 44 refineries in 25 countries.
This made it essential for African countries to police the continent's waters, she said.
The South African Maritime Strategy - which was adopted by Cabinet last year - is being piloted by South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique, and Sisuslu said the deployment of the Isandlwana was more as a deterrent than anything else.
She said the department would be requesting that at least two percent of GDP be allocated to defence spending.
One idea, she said, was that those departments that could benefit from additional defence - such as Agriculture and Trade and Industry, could pool their resources.
The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said to deal with piracy, it was important to tackle the political problems on the ground.
Nkoana-Mashabane attended a meeting in London on Thursday, hosted by AU security-council members, on how to work together with Somalis to return the country to normalcy.
She said South Africa had also pledged to make a donation of 10 million pounds in the form of services and support to those in liberated zones in Somalis.
Meanwhile, she said the African Renaissance Fund would be collapsed into the SA Development Partnership Agency, which is now being set up by her department.
This new agency would help to deal with political issues, but largely humanitarian aid on the continent, she said.
The draft bill for the establishment of the agency's fund had been finalised and would be presented to Cabinet before it is published in the Government Gazette for public comment.
The feasibility study and business case for the new agency had also been completed and is awaiting the approval of the National Treasury and the Department of Public Services and Administration, she said.