The South African Navy's first high-tech corvette, the SAS Amatola, sailed into Simon's Town harbor on November 4, although it will take until mid-2007 before the first of the four MEKO-pattern corvettes are fully ready for operations. The Amatola is also first tangible evidence of a multibillion dollar arms purchase South Africa that started back in 1998.
Defense analyst and former South African Defense Forces officer Helmoed Romer Heitman told the Cape Argus newspaper that the Amatola's arrival signaled "the fact that this country is regaining its naval blue water capability. Secondly, it is the first concrete step towards rejuvenating an aged navy and thirdly, it will do wonders for morale in the force." Heitman noted that the ship's arrival was not just important for South Africa, but also for its neighbors Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. They had long wanted South African help with fisheries patrols and the rapidly expanding threat of piracy.
The new corvettes will be tasked to protect marine resources, law enforcement, evacuation of civilians from coastal areas in times of crisis, fire support for land forces and participation in military diplomacy and peacekeeping missions.
However, there is a movement to have the loan agreement on which the entire arms deal is based set aside. In 2000, the South African branch of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR) filed an application in the Cape High Court which, if successful, would mean that the corvette may have to be returned to its German manufacturer Blom & Voss. To date, senior South African government officials have failed to heed an order from the Cape High Court to hand over papers that could jeopardize the controversial $6.1 billion arms deal.
The South African Navy also took receipt of six new Lima boats, at a ceremony at the navy's diving school in Simon's Town. The locally built multipurpose workboats will allow the South African navy to transfer cargo or light vehicles between ships at sea, or between a ship and shore. The boats can also be used in unprotected harbors as they can easily land on the beach. The Limas' have replaced the old Delta boats that have been in service since the early seventies. - Adam Geibel
MEKO Corvettes, online at: