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Maritime Protection Strategy: Mobilising the Private Sector

Maritime forces are essential to safeguarding offshore critical infrastructure (Royal Thai Navy Hua Hin Class OPV on patrol in the Gulf of Thailand)

Since the start of 2021, the world has witnessed a steady decline in global security, and unfortunately Africa was not spared from such incidents. One of the concerning developments is the declining state of governance in South Africa, and the first two weeks of July has proven quite a challenge for security forces to return calm to various provinces subject to mass organised looting and destruction of property and infrastructure, all supposedly because of the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma who was found guilty by the Constitutional Court (the highest court in South Africa), for contempt by having failed to appear before a commission investigating corruption charges implicating him during his tenure as President over the period 2009 to 2018. The most concerning part, however, was the government’s response (or rather lack of effective response), which highlights the poor state of the country’s national security strategy. Based on observations during the past two weeks we are of the opinion that the whole government security cluster is compromised in terms of safeguarding the Republic of South Africa and its sovereign integrity. Just focusing on government activities during the past 4 weeks, we state this based on the following main failures by government relating to the upholding of safety and security as per constitutional mandate:

1. Proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act: The government wishes to withdraw the legal right to firearm ownership for the purpose of self-defence (and various other related activities), based on unfounded reasons and advice provided by questionable sources with undeclared agendas not being within the best interests of the citizens of the Republic. Initially government attempted to pass the amendments unnoticed without proper review and public participation (as per current legislative procedures), and when challenged to provide supporting research for the proposed changes supporting the government’s narrative justifying the proposed amendments, the research proved to be flawed and not supporting the government narrative which then resulted in the law-abiding public questioning the ruling party’s undeclared motives and agenda. The major concern we have with this event is the foreign lines of influence dictating this policy to the current sitting government, and more specifically why the current government administration is allowing foreign influencers to dictate domestic policies not being within the best interests of maintaining sovereign integrity to the benefit of the citizens of the Republic, or in other words, the tax paying public.

2. Failure to properly execute the arrest warrant for former President Jacob Zuma: When the Constitutional Court found the accused guilty on June 29, 2021, the South African Police Services (SAPS) was responsible for effecting an arrest as per Warrant of Arrest issued by the court upon the guilty verdict. However, as a political courtesy, Jacob Zuma was allowed until July 4, 2021 to hand himself over to the SAPS, after which the SAPS would be obliged to arrest him. Unfortunately, he did not meet this deadline and the SAPS was instructed on July 7, 2021 to arrest him if he failed to surrender. This delay influenced by misguided political loyalties towards the former President, allowed anti-government forces to mobilise their supporters as an attempt to resist the arrest of the former President at his homestead in Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal province. This resistance initially came in the form of an armed group of militias who identified themselves as members of the ruling party’s Military Veterans (MKMVA), dressed in camouflage battle dress uniform and armed with a mix of automatic rifles in the form of Vector R-4/R-5 and AK-47/AKM. These weapons were in a well-maintained condition, and considering it being automatic firearms (reserved for use by the armed forces of South Africa, and under exceptional circumstances by private users), the following questions arose:

  • Are these weapons government owned firearms, and if so, under which lawful authority was it distributed to individuals displaying an anti-government militant bearing?

  • Are the members of the ruling party’s Military Veterans Association also members of any of the armed forces of South Africa (explaining how they had access to restricted firearms)?

  • If these restricted firearms (not generally licensable to private individuals, especially in such numbers as displayed on that day), are not government owned, and the members of the so-called Military Veterans arm of the ruling party are not members of any of the armed forces, then these weapons are clearly unlicensed firearms being held by the ruling party in contravention to existing laws and regulations, the same laws and regulations the government selectively wishes to enforce on law-abiding citizens of the country. If so, then serious questions exist about the integrity of the armed forces, and why the South African Police Services are allowing the stockpiling and public display of unlicensed restricted firearms by select groups affiliated to the ruling political party. Furthermore, how did the MKMVA 'source' these firearms?

3. Government inaction and failures during the sudden uprising of mass organized civil unrest: Protest action commenced on July 8, 2021, and by July 11, 2021, the level of violence escalated out of control. The South African Police Services acknowledged its inability to effectively respond to the crisis which in turn prompted government to mobilise the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to support the SAPS in normalising the situation (after billions of US$ of destruction to property and infrastructure), not even mentioning the large number of jobs that are lost as a result of the destruction caused by these events. What we find concerning is the various verified camera footage of law enforcement officials, including members of the SAPS, engaging in acts of looting and abuse of government assets in the execution of unlawful activities. Also, there were various reports of police running out of ammunition (only to be resupplied with ammunition from private firearm owners, the same people the government wishes to disarm), which further explains reports of unwillingness to resists looters from causing further destruction. This is extremely concerning because during the past 6 years, the South African Police Services also ‘lost’ around 9.5 million rounds of ammunition and 4,357 firearms. To make things even worse, a shipping container loaded with more than 1 million rounds of small arms ammunition imported from Brazil was looted by a criminal gang. This incident specifically supports the theory behind most attacks being intelligence driven for the reason that the shipping container was in secure storage in a container depot going through the processes of importation, and the specific container was stacked above the ground. The attackers knew exactly which shipping container to target, as well as its contents, without touching any nearby containers (indicating that the source most probably works within the customs and import verification chain, or SAPS). Looking at the unfolding of the civil unrest, there are reasonable grounds to believe that this incidence of mass organized civil unrest was thoroughly planned, with possible advisory support from rogue figures serving within government security agencies (looking at the precision and momentum of attacks, depth of target intelligence, intensity of destruction caused, and resulting impact on the economy and affected communities). One of the reasons why the level of civil unrest escalated out of control was due to the government security cluster’s failure to develop contingency plans to avoid and suppress any acts of public violence.

A scene from the streets of Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, where mass looting targeted major retails stores and goods transporting trucks. An example when crime is weaponised and used as legitimate justification for 'revolution'.

4. Information blindness relating to other activities sabotaging the economy of the Republic: While the political theatrics in predominantly the Kwa-Zulu Natal province was escalating via the targeted application of public violence, around 410 predominantly Chinese owned fishing trawlers were engaged in high-volume commercial fishing activities around 230 nm from the coastal baseline of South Africa along the coastal waters of the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces. The largest component of around 243 vessels were grouped off the coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. These numbers were based on verifiable real-time AIS data, which excluded any ‘dark’ vessels (vessels operating with all onboard navigation devices switched off). Although these activities were not illegal, it does fit the definition of unregulated and unreported, being only 30 nmi from the South African EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) boundary within international waters during observable day-light hours. The most concerning fact about this ongoing incident is that the PRC successfully deployed and sustains a fleet of more than 410 commercial class fishing vessels off the coast of South Africa, which highlights the following:

  • The South African government’s inability to develop and exploit its own ocean resources for the purpose of creating thousands of desperately needed jobs to positively stimulate the failing economy through increased production of high-value ocean resources to increase exports, thus reducing current trade deficits.

  • The absence of effective long-range surveillance and monitoring of foreign para-military vessel fleets (since all PRC vessels within the distant water fleet also serve as PLAN auxiliary vessels tasked with the secondary role of international maritime surveillance, intelligence gathering, and strategic influence projection).

  • It is extremely unlikely that certain key political figures within government are not aware of these activities, which raises the concern over the extent and depth of political influence currently exercised by the PRC over the current government via the political instrument, and at which cost (and to who’s financial benefit), such influence is exercised.

Overview of foreign fishing trawlers AIS data operating off the coast of South Africa over the period July 1 - 31, 2021 (Source: The critical area of concern is the dark zone (zero green spots area) located between the coastal baseline and the fishing vessels boundary visualized by AIS. Based on recent lessons learnt from Peru and Ecuador respectively, this dark area is where 'dark mode' vessels operate, 'blinded' out of sight by the AIS transmission data from borderline non-infringing vessels acting as a distraction.

However, all is not doom for the only government department capable of holding together the fragility of current South African politics, is the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (not to be confused with the ruling party’s Military Veterans). Now, whereas this may be perceived from a Western perspective as a positive, within the African context this is usually perceived as a negative by paranoid politicians (such as the types usually involved with mass irregular activities), who considers a powerful and capable military that is morally bound to upholding the constitution of the country above political favour, as a threat to future political existence in the event of political abuse and economic exploitation. This is one of the reasons why the current South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been gradually pacified in terms of military capabilities, especially strategic power projection, starting 1992 to present. In terms of current events, since deployment of the SANDF (although in small numbers compared to the current threat), various hotspots were returned to normal. The other great observation is how the South African society (from all races, religions and cultures), came together to stand their ground against an outnumbering mass of criminal hostility which exists because of the flawed and compromised political system. Considering all things going wrong in South Africa, we need to remember that the current South African society is being terrorised through violent criminal means by a minority group of people who are wrongly influenced through various forms of misguided political opportunism and radicalisation. The main point we can derive from the current escalation of political instability and insecurity within a developed country like South Africa is that security is NOT only a State responsibility anymore. The reason is that all members of society are affected under conditions of insecurity and poor governance, especially when caused by the political leadership of the country, and in the 21st century no-one can afford subjecting themselves any longer to government failures looking at the current evolution of global power dynamics. This directly relates to our main subject for discussion in this post relating to how the public can be involved as a resource in expanding the capabilities of a Maritime Protection Strategy as a force multiplier in the absence of sufficient government resources, especially in support of the South African Navy which is experiencing a gradual decline in already limited blue water capabilities.

To explain this concept as simple as possible, this discussion will continue from our previous discussion: Maritime Piracy and Illegal Fishing in Africa: A South African Case Study.



One of the reasons why South Africa is experiencing rising political instability is due to the high unemployment rate of around 42% as of 2021. Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was also poorly informed and managed, which further caused for an additional 2.2 million people to lose their jobs (the July 2021 civil unrest also added an additional 50,000 unemployed). The result of high unemployment usually leads to public frustration to the point where the unemployed public becomes victims of opportunistic politicians who influence them to destroy and loot government and private infrastructure as a means of survival, usually critical infrastructure required to sustain job creation. To make things worse, the prospects of recovering soon from the current situation is extremely slim for the simple reason that the South African society in general lacks functional education and skills to improve their own conditions constructively (a result of a government education system that has been failing for more than two decades), and the current government administration lacks the required skills and experience to improve economic outlook. One solution to improve the country’s economy is to effectively develop the opportunities offered by the ocean economy, which is especially suitable for creating high paying jobs amongst a lower skilled labor sector of society. However, government control over the country’s sovereign interests have declined drastically over the past 20 years due to mismanagement and corruption, the result thereof being a major challenge to regain total effective control over its territories for economic expansion. To gain perspective over how great a task it is, South Africa’s EEZ extends around 1 million square kilometres (km²), similar in size to the total land mass of the country, with an additional area of operations extending around 5 million square kilometres within the Southern Ocean as a result of various treaty obligations.


As a result of various reasons to include failed government policies, misguided strategic direction and general neglect, South Africa now faces the following threats in terms of developing the Southern Ocean economy to the benefit of the population:

1. Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA’s): At present, 10 out of 30 coastal states in Africa are living under conditions of war. The result of this is that maritime arms trade has rapidly increased (predominantly originating from Yemen serving as a proxy hub). The most prominent VNSA in Africa is the armed militant group Al Shabab, who is also considered the wealthiest VNSA on the continent. Most recent developments concerning Al Shabab includes alignment with the so-called Islamic State group, total dominance of the maritime crimes landscape in Gulf of Aden and surrounding states, and the most recent expansion of terror operations to the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique. The effect this has on current South African economic activities is the threat to South African oil and gas investments in Mozambique, as well as increased danger to merchant vessels transiting via the Mozambique Channel. The Mozambique Channel is of great strategic importance to ensuring shipping traffic along the South African coastline for the reason that the Cape sea route is the alternative shipping route to the Suez Canal to connect Asia with the Eastern Coastline of the Americas. Along the African West Coast, Boko Haram (also an Islamic State affiliate), dominates the present hostilities within the Gulf of Guinea region. The Gulf of Guinea threats are known to have expanded down south to within Angolan territory, the main reasons for these threats remaining unchallenged being accountable to a lack of government institutions and ‘sea blindness’ (lack of ISR) to effectively monitor and counter these threats.

2. Increased Foreign Military Presence in Africa: Due to the abnormal high occurrence of continuous failed governments and never-ending hostilities, most African countries presently accommodate foreign forces originating from all the top five UN Security Council (UNSC) members (Russia, PRC, France, UK, and the United States). With the current escalation in hostilities in neighbouring Mozambique, South Africa is concerned about the situation opening the door for increased foreign involvement (Mozambique currently has military advisors from Portugal, EU, and the US, having accommodated Russian advisors in the past, and soon anticipating a deployment of UK SOF from 2022). Mozambique also welcomed around 1,000 soldiers from Rwanda during July 2021, followed by Special Forces units from Lesotho, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa (SADC). Looking towards the future, African states are also becoming more aware of the increasing likelihood of a foreign naval powers conflict within the African Naval Domain, especially considering the increasing number of [competing] foreign military missions strategically spread throughout Africa. Of most concern are foreign naval vessels that are either nuclear armed, and/or nuclear powered, and what the direct ecological and humanitarian consequences on Africa would be if such vessels were to be destroyed or damaged in any form of naval conflict. All of the permanent members of the UNSC have indicated plans to expand on current nuclear arsenals.

3. Economic Sabotage: The threat of economic sabotage as a military threat is still much overlooked and greatly misunderstood in Africa due to education limitations pertaining to the subject. For the purpose of explanation, ‘economic sabotage’ is defined as: Any act or activity which undermines, weakens or renders into disrepute the economic system or viability of the country, or trends that bring about such effects. Within the South African maritime protection domain, economic sabotage activities include:

  • Maritime piracy.

  • Insurgency.

  • Smuggling of illicit/restricted goods.

  • Wildlife and endangered species poaching.

  • Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

  • Undocumented migration, refugees, and human trafficking.

  • Financing of land based militant campaigns.

  • Targeting of oil & gas infrastructure, especially non-OPEC related developments.

  • Environmental pollution.

  • Any illegal and/or unlawful act(s) which create negative economic outlook for investors.

The recent violent civil unrest instigated by opportunistic politicians in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, serves as an example of economic sabotage.

4. Foreign Interest Expansionism: The single greatest strategic value that South Africa holds is its anticipated (and required) roles within the Southern Atlantic Strategic Zone (UK), which includes the Cape Sea route. This shipping route that passes along South African ocean territory is still considered one of the most vital trade routes in the world, and the most practical sea route to Asia and the Far East via the Atlantic Ocean. Upholding the territorial integrity of the Cape Sea route, which includes the Mozambique Channel, is of great strategic importance for mainly the Western powers because it connects the Atlantic Ocean coastal states (such as the Americas, UK and EU) to Asia and the Far East in the event of the Suez Canal not being accessible (as experienced during the grounding of the 1,300 ft Ever Given container ship on March 23, 2021). The Suez Canal has proved to be a major concern in the event of a future global scale conflict whereas a scenario is envisioned that the Suez Canal would be purposefully targeted to disrupt rapid naval reinforcement deployments via the canal, consequently redirecting all shipping via the Cape sea route to link NATO members with Asian partner nations (such as India). In the Southern Ocean, traditionally the United Kingdom had guaranteed access to the Simons Town Naval Base, Cape Town, by means of the Simons Town Agreement which allowed the Royal Navy to maintain a controlling presence within the region, to include access to an advanced shipyard to support naval operations around the British Overseas Territories (British Antarctic Territory, Ascension, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands). However, due to various political factors unfolding at the time in both the United Kingdom and South Africa respectively, this agreement was officially terminated by both governments on June 16, 1975. Since then, South Africa became the sole custodian over this ocean territory, to include safeguarding of the Mozambique Channel as a member of the Commonwealth since 1994. Looking at the strategic value of this sea route, we can see why future anticipated foreign naval battles are considered a threat if this ocean territory is not effectively safeguarded.

5. Poor Strategic Direction: Strategic planning is the processes required by government to influence the future instead of only preparing or adapting to the future. These processes involve financial planning processes that assesses long-term financial implications of current and proposed policies, programs, and assumptions. At present, South Africa has no functional strategic direction mainly caused by the fact that one of the negative results of a democratic political dispensation is that strategic planning (which should involve long-term planning up to 50 years in the future), only lasts for an average of less than 5 years, or in other words, an election cycle. The other concern is the degrading effect that foreign political franchises have on the current ruling party, especially the concept of ‘political campaign funding in exchange for policy dictation’. South Africa is definitely not immune from the toxic effects of influence by various powerful global 'socialist' movements.

6. Diverse Maritime Security (MARSEC) Stakeholders: South Africa presently has 25 different maritime security stakeholders in government alone, which excludes private sector stakeholders. The main problems in relation to bringing these different stakeholders together are summarised as follows:

  • Each of these stakeholders are fighting for political recognition as a priority above their prescribed mandates.

  • Poor unity between these departments due to political interference, which includes the deployment of inappropriately qualified cadres (as a means of rewarding political loyalty).

  • There are no mechanisms for enabling cooperative mobilisation (such as joint operations centres).

  • Most of these stakeholders, with clearly defined government mandate to safeguard the ocean economy, operates in silos with limited intelligence sharing mechanisms. Also, looking at the political leadership of some of these departments, many of these members are compromised as a result of past involvement (and implication) in acts of government corruption.

7. Region Specific Deficiencies:

  • Poor port security control measures. The recent civil unrests in South Africa highlighted how South Africa, the most advanced economy in Africa, has major security failures in terms of imports via the Port of Durban which resulted in the targeted theft of more than 1 million rounds of small arms ammunition which was supposedly under security forces control.

  • Traditionally, maritime security has always been a low budget priority mainly due to politicians and government officials not knowing the economic importance of safeguarding the country’s respective ocean territories.

  • Sub-Sahara Africa is incapable of effectively protecting the sea due to a severe lack of resources, to include insufficient numbers of Maritime Patrol Aircraft to conduct ISR missions. This challenge is further exacerbated by poor interoperability between the region’s navies because of cultural (and tribal) differences, non-interoperability of hardware, diverse foreign influences and affiliation, different political outlook, and inherent mistrust between neighbouring states with limited political maturity to resolve shared challenges for achieving mutually beneficial strategic objectives.

  • As foreign influences within the political spectrum increases through various means to include corruption, foreign military assistance is rapidly diminishing as foreign powers are becoming more focused on taking care of themselves considering current changing global power dynamics (Read: The Great Power Competition: How does it Affect Africa?).

  • Inherent ignorance for understanding the State funding cycle in terms of how controlled economic exploitation of the ocean economy increases State revenue which in turn increases government budgets to include social spending, economic development and diversification, and infrastructure development as requirements for implementing sustainable strategic plans.

8. Economic Decline: The South African economy has been contracting for more than a decade for various reasons to include government corruption, political mismanagement, poor economic policy, reduced domestic production leading to increased imports dependence, local currency devaluation, decline in exports and lower international commodity prices, rapidly increasing trade deficits, reduced production output, reduced monetary value of output, and higher costs associated with higher sovereign debt. The direct result of these activities resulted in an escalating situation of joblessness which in turn causes for increased social spending while eroding the tax base even further as a result of poor economic strategy. To illustrate the extent of economic decline, South Africa experienced a ZAR 82 Billion trade surplus during 2006 (Mbeki Administration), but in 2021 (Ramaphosa Administration), South Africa faces a ZAR 441 Billion trade deficit. The consequence of such rapid economic decline equates to drastic cuts in safety and security expenditure, why South Africa is facing a situation where the South African Police Services have admitted to its inability to meet its mandated duty of effective policing of the country. This failure by the SAPS demanded the deployment of the SANDF in support of law enforcement operations while at the same time leaving no alternative means of safeguarding the sovereign integrity of the Republic beyond its land territory. In terms of defence spending and how much it declined in percentage vs GDP, the defence budget for 2021 is about 0.8% of GDP compared to the defence budget of 1995 which comprised 2.6% of GDP. The initial defence spending decline commenced around FY2011 (Zuma Administration), which was also about the time when government corruption drastically increased. Furthermore, one of the major factors further influencing economic decline as a result of unregulated outflows of currency, is the illegal trade in narcotics. The most profitable of all narcotics is cocaine with a current street value of around US$ 90,000-00 / kg (FY2021). In ZAR value, this is R 1,307,439-00 per kilogram of cocaine, meaning, for every 1,000 kg of cocaine being illegally smuggled into South Africa, domestic currency circulation is reduced by about R 700 million (of R 1,3 Billion street value) due to unregulated capital flight which in turn gradually erodes spending within the regular economy while adding severe strains to government social spending caused by increased spending on health care and social grants as a result of the effects of narcotics addictions and associated job losses and business closures, which in turn leads to a decline in production and spending within the regular economy.

9. Reduced Naval Operational Hours: Due to increasing budget cuts, the only means the South African Navy could adapt to its ever declining budget, was to reduce operation hours at sea. During FY2019/20, SAN operational hours were reduced to 10,000 hours at sea, compared to 22,000 hours for FY2013/14. By it's own admission, the Navy requires 12,000 hours (500 days) at sea per year to sufficiently train its personnel, with an absolute minimum of 7,800 hours dedicated to force employment obligations (border protection, marsec, anti-piracy). At present the SAN can only afford 6,000 hours at sea, with just over 4,000 hours allocated to force employment obligations. To add to the already long list of challenges, the NAVY needs both the Valour Class frigates (x4) and Heroine Class submarines (x3) to undergo midlife overhauls at a cost of around ZAR 3 Billion. At present, only ZAR 270 million has been allocated towards these projects until FY2022/23, and most likely under current circumstances, these vessels, comprising the majority of the SAN's strategic blue water capabilities, will most probably be out of service soon.

Opposing Forces:

Looking at the evolution of warfare and the emergence of international threats against states not necessarily considered enemies by definition of war, hybrid warfare (also known as unrestricted warfare), has created the scenario where governments have to oppose threats not belonging to a single specific nation. This has resulted in the situation where nations at peace with each other are also fighting each other by means of alternative resources that can sometimes be affiliated to one another, but not always clearly distinguishable. IUU Fishing and Maritime Piracy are examples of such situations which fall within the definition of Non-Quantifiable Adversary Forces (NQAF) which are very much silently increasing within the scope of 5GW (5th Generation Warfare). To add to the frustration, these threats are sometimes difficult to categorise legally, the term Non-State Actors (NSA) most used within the US DoD to describe these forces threatening and challenging the traditional sense of sovereign integrity belonging to what is defined and acknowledged within international law as rights and privileges belonging to sovereign states. Correct categorisation of threats is important to establish applicable lawful response to determine whether the countering- and neutralisation of a threat is either a military solution, or a law enforcement solution as per applicable domestic- and international laws. For this discussion, the term ‘Opposing Forces’ will apply for simplification of explanation, which includes all forms of Anti-Government Forces and Non-State Actors engaged in activities fitting the definition of the acts of Economic Sabotage.

Within the context of the South African maritime protection strategy, the most prominent Opposing Forces threatening the Southern African territorial waters are the Chinese (PRC) fishing fleet, as well as rogue fishing vessels affiliated to Spanish ownership (although in much lesser numbers than the PRC scenario). The general modus operandi for both these groups are relatively the same, although the PRC fishing fleet being the most complex and advanced why it is the focus of discussion in this article.


The PRC distant water fishing (DWF) fleet is considered the greatest threat to fishing resources globally because it operates in excessive numbers to meet PRC global fishing strategy demands while receiving generous subsidies from the government. Within the public eye, the PRC has been on the receiving end of much global criticism for its role in promoting IUU (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated) Fishing activities, and as a public relations exercise, the PRC government implemented various ‘reforms’ to improve foreign public perception through various operations clamping down on smaller ‘illegal’ fishing operators, or so it would appear. In reality, it was just a game of theatrics to satisfy the public while saving the larger, more effective components of this phenomenon. However, looking at the legal definition of IUU (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated) Fishing, the PRC has made quite some progress in decreasing the incidence of ‘Illegal’ fishing activities by Chinese flagged vessels, but it was done through the educated improvement in exploitation of the ‘Unreported’ and ‘Unregulated’ domains, with the ‘Illegal’ fishing domain only being barely avoided from a technical perspective in most cases.

Furthermore, the value in these multiple flag-state ‘civilian registered’ vessels lies not so much in the fishing activities, but rather in the global intelligence gathering capabilities of these vessels since all crews are paramilitary trained as members of the PLAN maritime militia. For this reason, these fishing vessels are equipped with sensors usually found on naval vessels which also aids the crews in evading maritime authorities in foreign ocean territories (such as radar warning receivers). During 2021, there has been a drastic increase in global reports relating to extreme overfishing by predominantly Chinese owned vessels operating within international waters bordering EEZ’s known to accommodate large fishing resources. Southern Africa is one of those areas affected the most. However, to understand the aggressive expansion of Chinese fishing activities within international waters, we need to better understand the PRC government policies driving these expansions. Also, to add further complexity to this phenomenon, the term 'Chinese owned' does not only imply (or apply to) vessels sailing under the Chinese flag. The Chinese distant water fishing fleet has evolved through the years to its present state of operating under various 'flags of convenience', with absolute beneficial ownership hidden under layers of international shelf companies. Basically, the term 'Chinese fishing vessels' refers to all global fishing operations, irrespective of the registered flag state of the vessel, where the catches of such vessels ultimately end up within the consumer market of China. It appears to be all legally confusing, which it was designed to be within its present state.


The PRC’s strategy in terms of fishing is quite simple. China’s greatest demand for fishing resources lies with its own domestic market. A decade ago, China used to import the majority of its fish from international markets. However, since fish (as a resource) was priced as a commodity, China decided to reduce the costs of imports by rapidly expanding its own distant water fishing (DWF) fleets. The main benefits of this strategy are as follows:

1. Create more domestic jobs through the development of a large commercial fishing fleet.

2. Create jobs within the domestic marine manufacturing sector to support these vessels over lifetime.

3. Decrease imports of a costly international sourced commodity for domestic consumption, therefore increasing retention of foreign exchange reserves which can be utilised for other more critical imports.

4. Due to China’s expanding domestic demand, a drastic decrease in global imports by China will result in a gradual reduction in global prices for fishing resources if China stops buying. The result of such actions are lower international prices to the point where it becomes financially feasible to purchase foreign fish resources from foreign markets again.

5. Dominate the global commercial fisheries market through ‘swarming’ tactics in terms of fishing vessels. If the PRC records the highest statistics in terms of global market share based on annual catch data, the government will have greater power to dictate global policy via the applicable United Nations and other international bodies in terms of fishing regulations and future market share guarantees.

6. Where Chinese vessels dominate international fishing grounds, adjacent domestic fishing operations will gradually decline due to the costs of operations exceeding profitability in the absence of government subsidies as applicable to the Chinese fishing fleet, consequently opening up more resources for exploitation by Chinese assets.

7. Extend international maritime surveillance capabilities in support of the PLAN via the commercial fisheries industry, categorising Chinese state-owned fishing vessels as naval auxiliary assets.

8. Purchase failing foreign based fish processing factories in overseas ‘partner’ territories at a fraction of the cost of developing new factories, territories where traditional commercial fishing resources have been depleted, but through ‘favourable’ trade agreements become supplied via Chinese foreign based fishing vessels without questions being asked about fish catch data.

To determine the effectiveness of this strategy, we only need to study South American squid export data to China over the period 2012 to 2016. Based on this data alone, China imported 10% of the volume of squid from South America during 2016 compared to the volume of squid imported during 2012. Looking at Chinese demand for squid over that period, there has been a drastic increase (meaning, the PRC domestic demand now exceeds the domestic demand of 10 years ago). So, how does the PRC make up for the rapid increase in demand while imports decreased by around 90%? Very simple, the Chinese government decided to catch their own fish, even if it meant they had to send large fleets of fishing vessels to all corners of the globe, usually escorted by large factory ships, refrigeration ships, and refuelling ships which drastically reduces the requirements for fishing vessels to return to port for offloading of catches. The problem with this strategy, which even the PRC authorities have come to realise, is that global fishing resources of commercially viable and sustainable quantities have become depleted due to mainly overfishing, the PRC presently being the main culprit in such activities.

Now, moving the focus to the Southern Ocean, South Africa has the unique geographical advantage of accessibility to both the colder Atlantic Ocean, and warmer Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean sector along the South African coastline adjacent to the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal coastlines are home to large commercially viable stocks of squid, tuna and shark (the most in demand fish species for Chinese consumption). This is the reason why there is a large presence of predominantly Chinese owned fishing vessels operating outside the EEZ of South Africa.


However, the more serious threat posed by the large fleets of Chinese ‘fishing’ vessels, is the maritime militia doctrine controlling these large fleets, a doctrine designed to enhance asymmetry perceived in favour of China to increase Beijing’s initiative, such as using these ‘innocently perceived’ fishing fleets to shape foreign policy and relations with the advantage of plausible deniability while sailing under different flags. These forces also allow China to disrupt foreign survey operations with lower escalatory risks than would be presented by aggressive manoeuvring by PLAN warships. The militia can close in assertively within foreign territory while remaining under the close watchful eyes of the Chinese Coast Guard and PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy). Thus, the militia can fulfil a variety of roles spanning the spectrum of peacetime coercion and wartime confrontation. Looking at the large fleet of Chinese vessels operating off the coast of South Africa, sufficient reasons exist to expect the PRC applying the doctrine of peacetime coercion against the South African government. Looking at training, the Chinese maritime militia train for a variety of missions to include ship boarding, search and rescue, reconnaissance, assisting law enforcement and rights protection, use of light weapons, deception operations (altering radar signatures), and logistics support. This logistics support doctrine, however, is the means how many of the illicit goods originating from South Africa are transferred back to China (such as rhino horn, abalone, and other regulated commodities), and how many illicit goods enter the country via unregulated ports (such as unregistered firearms and ammunition, narcotics, etc). Looking at future developments of the maritime militia, the PLA needs to downsize around 300,000 soldiers in the next few years, many of these soldiers having served within the PLAN. As per current developments, most of the retired PLAN members will be incorporated into the maritime militia as a next step for further evolving the levels of capability of this force, with the main focus of “win without fighting” via coercive tactics. Commercial fishing operations is of great strategic importance to China, and what better way to maintain the advantage than by militarising that component to the greater benefit of achieving Chinese dominance and global reach (while the primary international focus in terms of growing Chinese defence capabilities are directed towards the conventional arms of service).

In short, the Chinese foreign distant water fishing (DWF) fleet is a military force under disguise of a fishing fleet. The primary role of this fleet is to expand Chinese foreign interests and to support PLAN objectives while at the same time harvesting resources from foreign ocean territories considered strategically important to maintaining Chinese economic growth through foreign resources exploitation. For this reason, the Chinese ‘fishing’ fleet does not deserve civilian protection measures during conflict or hostilities, justifying the use of more aggressive actions to counter these foreign forces.


The ADF African oversight desk conducted a study of real-time AIS data from various sources to develop an operational summary of what was happening out of sight from the mainstream media within the South African oceanic region during the ongoing political violence in Kwa-Zulu Natal, along with the military escalation developments in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. As at 24 1200B JUL 2021, around 410 foreign registered commercial fishing vessels were found operating along the South African coastline as follows:

24 1200B JUL 2021, Global AIS data belonging to commercial fishing vessels only (Source:

24 1200B JUL 2021, AIS transmissions belonging to commercial trawlers in sub-Sahara Africa (Source:

24 1200B JUL 2021, AIS transmissions of commercial fishing trawlers along the coast of South Africa. This data excludes vessels operating in 'dark mode' (Source:

Sample Vessel Registration Analysis: To support the findings of this section of the article, a sample analysis of 10% was done based on the registered AIS data per vessel. This data only reflects vessels which were not operating in dark mode (Dark Mode: AIS turned off). The following foreign registered fishing vessels were identified (Vessel Name, Flag State):

Sector A (9/88): Charn Fu Ying, Chinese Taipei

Shyang Chyang No 8, Chinese Taipei

Shyang Chyang No 88, Chinese Taipei

Shyang Chyang No 888, Chinese Taipei

Hung Chuan No 232, Chinese Taipei

Chen Hsing No 188, Chinese Taipei

Yi Long No 202, Chinese Taipei

Full Always 168, Seychelles

Pan Ocean, Seychelles

Sector B (4/39): Jain Hsuan No 202, Chinese Taipei

De Fu No 1, Chinese Taipei

Jain Yung No 262, Seychelles

Toyo Maru No 28, Japan

Sector C (1/9): Win Long, Chinese Taipei

Sector D (3/31): De Hai, Chinese Taipei

Jui Der No 16, Chinese Taipei

Weii Shein, Chinese Taipei

Sector E (25/243): Hong Rong, Chinese Taipei

Tenn Ming Yang No 668, Chinese Taipei

Shui Ho Cheng No 5, Chinese Taipei

Home Sheen, Chinese Taipei

Der Hae No 66, Chinese Taipei

Feng Guo No 168, Chinese Taipei

Hung Fy No 88, Chinese Taipei

Feng Kuo No 888, Chinese Taipei

Kha Yang No 1, Malaysia

Kha Yang No 9, Malaysia

Kha Yang No 979, Chinese Taipei

Kha Yang No 993, Chinese Taipei

De Hai No 12, Chinese Taipei

Hung Rung No 2, Chinese Taipei

Chi Sheng No 6, Chinese Taipei

Dr Hae No 3, Chinese Taipei

Chien Wei No 3, Chinese Taipei

Feng Haz No 6, Chinese Taipei

Feng Kuo No 666, Chinese Taipei

Hong Da No 1, Chinese Taipei

Hong Yu No 313, Chinese Taipei

Alexia, Spain

Zumaya Dous, Spain

Herdusa Primero, Spain

Ribeira Do Mar, Portugal

What can we learn from this? Based on the 10% vessel ownership sample model, the following can be deduced from current Chinese distant water fishing methods along the coast of South Africa based on historical confirmed activities observed within Peruvian and Ecuadorian ocean territories the past 5 years:

1. China (PRC) is applying the ‘flags of convenience’ concept in Southern Africa to direct attention away from its expanding and controversial global fishing industry, including the bad publicity associated with brand China in terms of foreign fishing exploitation. The methods through which they (PRC) are achieving this, are as follows:

  • Registering vessels under foreign flags through shelf company registrations in Seychelles and Malaysia (to exploit existing favourable trade agreements between these countries and coastal states in Africa).

  • Applying the ‘one state’ policy in terms of ‘Taiwan’ (referred to as ‘Chinese Taipei’ in mainland China), and because of bilateral trade agreements that exist between the PRC (Beijing) and the ROC (Taiwan), the PRC can enjoy more favourable foreign trade relations that exist between the ROC (Taiwan) and traditional foreign allies which has been in existence longer than the existence of the PRC distant water fishing fleet. South Africa is one of these countries because of heritage trade agreements that exist since pre-1994 between the then South African government and the ROC (Taiwan), as a past ally and strategic trade partner during the period of economic sanctions. These heritage trade agreements between South Africa and the ROC (Taiwan) were never revoked or revised, and since such agreements are more favourable to the PRC (Beijing), it is to the benefit of the PRC to transmit ‘Chinese Taipei’ flagged vessels via AIS within the proximity of South African ocean territories. Again, these fishing vessels are Chinese owned and crewed, but the vessel ownership is hidden under layers of ROC (Taiwan)/Chinese Taipei registered companies and various other international companies to enable ‘flag of convenience’ plausible deniability. Absolute ownership benefit however lies with China.

  • Other flags of convenience include Chinese vessels sailing under the flags of Panama, as well as Liberia.

2. Spanish and Portuguese flagged fishing vessels operate within close cooperation with the Chinese fishing fleet. One of the reasons for this is to access the Chinese factory/reefer ships through offshore sales and transfer of catches which drastically reduces operating costs relevant to offloading of cargo to extend fishing time at sea. This explains why Spanish and Portuguese fishing vessels operate on the same modus operandi as the Chinese distant water fishing fleets, and why certain Chinese favoured species were found aboard (such as shark fins), during recent incidents where Spanish and Portuguese vessels were indicated in illegal fishing activities.

3. Vessels comprising the Chinese distant water fishing fleet are commonly similar in appearance, and the most prominent identifiers are large painted numbers on the sides of the hull. Various vessels, however, display the same numbers sequence (3, 8, 88, 888, 6, 66, 666, 168, 202), which are often repeated throughout the fleet (intentionally avoiding the use of progressive and unique numbering features). Since these large painted numbers are the only visible identifiers at a distance when optically observed, it is suspected that the reason for numbers duplication is to create confusion in reporting by lesser experienced observing authorities, and to create an assumption that the fleet is much smaller than what exists in reality based on reported data. Such confusion can also enable great advantage in terms of prosecution through inducing increased likelihood of administrative error to facilitate wrongful interdiction and arrest, which further delays budget conscious authorities from executing any arrests where any margin of doubt may exist.

4. A vessel verification on 24 1200B JUL 2021 also indicated a Spanish registered vessel recorded as stationery about 140 nmi off the coast of Durban within the South African EEZ conducting suspected fishing activities (around midway between the Durban and the Sector E fishing fleet). The fact that this vessel was operating within the EEZ indicates how these fishing fleets are exploiting the current under-resourced South African Navy capabilities, knowing that South Africa currently has limited maritime ISR and interdiction capabilities. However, taking into consideration the transmitted location data of this specific vessel, it might have been operating as a distraction to provide early warning to a larger ‘dark mode’ fishing fleet operating from Sector E within the South African EEZ.

Spanish vessel, Manuel Alba, a drifting long-line trawler about 140 nmi off the coast of South Africa @ 24 1200B JUL 2021 (Source:

5. All registered AIS data should be analysed taking into consideration that the Chinese distant water fishing fleet is responsible for at least 44% (verified) global AIS identification manipulation, to include transmission of fake or cloned AIS data belonging to other vessels not necessarily within the vicinity. What further complicates analysis of transmitted AIS data, looking specifically at the 24 1200B JUL 2021 study, is that on average only 10% of the vessels operating within the different sectors along the South African coastline had active AIS transmissions (why only 10% vessel registration analysis was done) . The other 90% AIS transmissions were intentionally masked from positive vessel identification (dark mode), which included all support vessels (factory ships, reefers, fuel bunkers, etc) accompanying the fishing fleets. The only means of obtaining correct vessel registration data is by means of deployment of electromagnetic and optical sensors within the area. Now, looking at the transmitted data, the public perception goal from a fleet operator/owner perspective is to create the impression that the majority fishing fleets are Chinese Taipei flagged, considering the size of the fleets and their targeted catches, therefore the dark mode vessels most likely being PRC flagged. The major factor to take into consideration in terms of analysing distant water fishing (DWF) operations is knowing the final destination of catches. In terms of current fishing trade agreements between the PRC (Beijing) and ROC (Taiwan), we should look at the ROC (Taiwan) rather as a province of the PRC (Beijing), for the majority of current ROC (Taiwan / Chinese Taipei) flagged fishing operations serve the needs of mainland China (PRC). In other words, the term 'Chinese fishing fleet' includes all vessels engaged in fishing activities for the purpose of fulfilling Chinese (ROC and PRC) consumer demands, which includes Chinese Taipei registered vessels.

6. The majority of the vessels listed in the vessel ownership sample are IUU fishing listed (having been implicated in various other IUU fishing infringements). These vessels also undergo constant change of ownership (average 8 times during lifetime to present), further complicated by changing operator status being different to the registered owner details. Flag state registrations also constantly change, along with vessel names (average 9 times per vessel applicable to the sample ownership group). However, the most complex of data verification applies to the corporate ownership structures in terms of ultimate beneficiary ownership, nearly all these vessels protected by multiple layers of proprietary corporate ownership.


The Southern Ocean territories spanning east of South America to the west of Australia past the coastline of South Africa is the last remaining ocean territory offering commercially viable fishing resources. Unfortunately, due to high concentrations of unregulated commercial fishing operations targeting mostly endangered fish species (due to its inherent high commodity prices), it will not be long before the Southern Ocean fishing resources will be depleted below sustainable production levels. The Chinese distant water fishing fleet operates an extremely advanced and complex decentralised network of commercial fishing operations working towards one goal, namely, achieving strategic economic domination to the benefit of China. The method of operation is designed to be complex for the purpose of achieving maximum plausible deniability, circumvention of as many legalities as possible, but to engage maximum protection under current international laws. These threats, however, cannot be countered through conventional means, and the only means of effectively countering these activities is through enhanced deterrence and denial (which includes financial and logistics). These operations are however highly cost sensitive, and therefore we can learn much from their current modus operandi to find ways of using their own tactics against them. South Africa has the advantage in terms of geographical positioning to enable a more cost-effective means of exploiting this region to its own economic benefit, but to deny foreign presence within these areas will require much creative means. The main question, however, is whether the South African government has the political will to act within the best interest of its own people and economy, for within the present conditions the South African political government is China’s greatest asset.

Friendly Forces:

One of the major misconceptions that exist around the requirements for an effective maritime protection strategy is that the responsibility to safeguard the oceans lies solely at the hands of the Navy. Looking at South Africa, maritime protection is a collective responsibility of the following government departments:

  • Department of Defence and Military Veterans

  • Department of Transport

  • Department of International Relations and Cooperation

  • Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries

  • Department of Police

  • Department of Finance

  • Department of Home Affairs

  • Department of Justice

  • State Security Agency.

This list excludes sub-department government agencies which operate with the mandate to support these departments, and it also excludes any private sector stakeholders. In total, there are 25 different agencies involved with the execution of a maritime protection strategy. This, however, creates the difficult challenge of bringing them all together to work towards achieving the same actionable outcomes on land, at sea, and in the air. To achieve this, the following processes are required (to package role-players correctly with exclusive knowledge):

Step 1: Identify applicable laws.

Step 2: Identify all required stakeholders to enable law enforcement responsibilities.

Step 3: Identify resources requirements.

Step 4: Develop Command and Control systems.

Step 5: Develop aligned training requirements.

Looking at enablement of a maritime protection strategy, such responsibility will be the responsibility of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) because of its superior command and control expertise by means of Joint Operations Head Quarters composed of members drawn from all relevant stakeholders. Do these structures exist, and do they function effectively? The answer to that question remains highly unlikely, and the effectiveness of cooperation and coordination much debatable. Looking at physical maritime patrol resources, only the South African Navy (SAN) and Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (DAFF) have within its inventories vessels capable of patrolling the EEZ (although not in sufficient numbers):


South African Navy Frigate departing Simon's Town.

Frigates: 4

Submarines: 3

Auxiliary: 1

OPV: 2 + (2)*

* The OPV's (Offshore Patrol Vessels) are not designed OPV’s but rather recommissioned refurbishments of the old Warrior Class strike craft (ex Minister Class, modified versions of the IMI Sa-ar 4), which entered service with the SAN during 1977. At present only two OPV’s are in service, with an additional one ex-Warrior Class vessel awaiting final decommissioning, and another retired from service late 2020 (SAS Galeshewe, P1567). These vessels were, however, only interim measures until three new Project Biro IPV’s (Inshore Patrol Vessels) are delivered and inducted into service commencing 2021 to 2023 at a rate of one vessel per year. The SAN also has other smaller vessels within its inventory, but none are suitable for offshore operations, mostly being brown water capable vessels.


Sarah Baartman, Offshore fisheries vessel, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)

Patrol Boats: 4

In total, South Africa can only put fourteen (14) vessels to sea for the purpose of patrolling the EEZ as part of a maritime protection strategy. However, in reality at least 33% (minimum 5) of these vessels are out of service due to normal maintenance rotations, and an additional two (2) vessels serve externally within the Mozambique Channel dedicated to anti-piracy operations within the region along the coast of Mozambique. Therefore, the reality facing the South African government is a best-case scenario of seven (7) vessels (SAN: 4, DAFF: 3) capable of patrolling the 1 million km² EEZ ocean territory, which equates to around 143,000 km² of ocean territory per vessel. This, unfortunately, is a nearly impossible task to accomplish especially in light of the SAAF being equipped with converted Douglas C-47TP Dakota maritime patrol aircraft of 1943 vintage, which were upgraded during the early 1990’s to turboprop versions equipped only with weather radars. The project was initially envisioned as an interim upgrade until budget allowed for the procurement of a more capable long-range maritime patrol system during an anticipated 10-year procurement window period which never realised. Further attempts to equip these aircraft with EW, Sonar and FLIR were deemed a failure during the 1990’s due to platform design limitations.


Based on capabilities and leadership characteristics, Maritime Defence and Security is best performed by the armed forces, more specifically the Air Force and Navy. Ideally, the services of a dedicated Coast Guard modelled on the United States Coast Guard (USCG) would be most suitable for safeguarding ocean territories during times of peace, but for a relatively small economy like South Africa (and most of Africa), having a dedicated Coast Guard is a rare luxury due to the high costs required to operate a separate arm of service independent from the Navy. Therefore, within the South African context, the South African Navy is the key driver to enabling and maintaining an effective maritime protection strategy, subject to the following legal parameters:

1. Constitutional Mandate: In terms of Maritime Defence and Security, the duties and responsibilities of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is mandated by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In terms of the Constitution, the primary objective of the SANDF is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity, and it's people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of International Law governing the use of force.

2. Constitutionally Mandated Functions: Further defined, the SANDF is responsible for fulfilling the following functions:

  • Protect the Republic’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

  • Preserve life, health and property.

  • Uphold law and order in the Republic in support of the South African Police Services.

  • Comply with international obligations with regards to international bodies and other states.

  • Provide and maintain essential services.

  • Support any department of state for the purpose of economic upliftment.

Therefore, as mandated by the Constitution, the South African National Defence Force is responsible to lead and provide workable guidance to supporting state departments and agencies to safeguard the ocean territories for the purpose of enabling economic upliftment to the benefit and betterment of the South African society.

3. International (Treaty) Obligations: International treaties are written instruments that are legally binding agreements between states usually being equally mutually beneficial. The most common of international agreements (also known as protocols, conventions), include:

  • International relations.

  • International Search and Rescue.

  • SOLAS.

  • Value to bilateral and multilateral agreements.

  • Support to the continental strategy.

  • Hydrography and maritime charting.

The most significant role in terms of international obligations is International Search and Rescue which spans over an area roughly 31.1 million km² in size.


This Concept of Operations (CONOPS) summarises considerations for developing a maritime defence and security system within the South African maritime region adapted to a [reduced] budget driven defence force concept. These concepts were developed incorporating the following design characteristics:

  • Optimized domain awareness.

  • Affordable maritime mobility.

  • Application of special operations forces (SOF), tactics, and techniques.

  • Affordable maritime and airspace security.

  • Optimized application of electromagnetic spectrum technologies.

  • Sustainable ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance).

  • Development of active and passive deterrence.

  • Extended defence diplomacy and cooperation.

  • Cybersecurity and operational security (OPSEC).

  • Defined mission priorities.

  • Improved stakeholder engagement and cooperation.

  • Public participation initiatives as a force multiplier.

The main challenges facing the South African Navy (SAN) as primary custodian with the duty of safeguarding the South African ocean territories, is the great size of the area of responsibility being around 1 million km² (EEZ). To effectively control such a vast area by means of sector patrols alone utilising shipborne sensor suites is nearly impossible for the reason that the SAN would require around 1,500 vessels to effectively patrol the whole Southern Ocean area of responsibility spanning around 5 million m². For this reason, the only solution forward is to innovate alternative means of dominating a multi-domain (NATO: multi-dimension) battle space taking into consideration alternative resources outside the government stakeholders’ spectrum. To understand the meaning of ‘multi-domain’ in relation to the South African maritime protection strategy, the following options should be considered:

D1 - Land: An effective maritime protection strategy does not start and end at the coastal baseline, but in fact extends at least 10 km inland from the coastal baseline. The reason for this is due to most illegal activities at sea occurring within 10 nm of the coastal baseline within the inshore coastal waters, and therefore the coastal region serves as the support base for these operations (Example: Abalone poaching along the Overberg coastline has indicated that most of its support activities occur within the 10 km inland zone from the coastal baseline. Based on past ADF intelligence operations in the region in support of security forces, various instances were discovered where local logistics operators were involved with the transportation of illegal goods to larger collection centres. Collection centres are required due to the small scale of poaching operations, and large numbers of poached commodities need to be collected to enable large [unregulated] export shipments of commercially viable size for collection at sea by the larger factory ships in waiting within international waters). In terms of ISR, the South African Army can provide all necessary resources to conduct land based ISR operations to enable intelligence driven law enforcement intervention operations.

D2 - Air: Domination of the air space is essential to achieving an effective maritime protection strategy, especially considering the large size of the South African EEZ and extended area of operations. The focus in terms of air domination should be Search and Rescue, ISR (Intelligence), Patrol (Deterrence), and Interdiction (Response) coordination.

D3 - Sea: The South African Navy should be maintained with at least a blue water ISR, Patrol, and interdiction capability, even if it is limited. However, naval assets should remain flexible with a primary focus towards national defence, with a secondary function of counter IUU Fishing (and associated illegal, unregulated activities). The current DAFF patrol boats should be upgraded to multi-mission ‘Coast Guard’ comparable systems with capability to intercept and verify suspect vessels, including limited self-defence measures and armed ship boarding teams. These vessels should also be equipped with more advanced sensor suites capable of linking into the SAN network. Also, the South African Police Services (SAPS) should re-establish the failed Sea Borderline Control Unit. During 2007, 4 x 16 meter (20 Ton) Patrol Boats were being built for deployment to the ports of Saldanha, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Richards Bay respectively. Unfortunately, due to financial mismanagement and payment discrepancies, the company appointed to manufacture these vessels declared bankruptcy before the vessels were delivered, and the 4x incomplete vessel hulls were sold to the UAE (the circumstances surrounding this sale still remaining questionable to this day). However, the true opportunity lies with the effective engagement of the private sector maritime operators who collectively operate sufficient assets to establish a coastal-wide ISR network via an innovative Naval Auxiliary / Reserves system.

D4 - Space: During the early 1990’s South Africa had made great progress in the development of its own space program with the intention of launching satellites into space (and whatever would follow thereafter). However, due to this program being a by-product of the then government’s nuclear arms program, funding was stopped, and the program was discontinued before the transition in government post-1994. Although the rocket program came to an end, the satellite development program continued into what is now called micro satellites, with various models currently in space orbit utilised mainly for environmental observation and research. Since these technologies are relatively affordable, and launching services are available via various commercial space launching ventures, the SANDF should capitalise on establishing a network of micro satellites with various sensor- and communications technologies to enhance static surveillance operations over the vast ocean territories. The initial costs of capitalisation is rewarded over time with extremely low costs of operation for the duration of the satellite(s) lifespan.

D5 - Information: One of the greatest risks in terms of the current maritime protection strategy is information, more specifically, the absence of information. The SANDF should establish an information campaign educating all stakeholders and the public in the importance and value of maintaining an effective maritime protection strategy. At present the public, government and the armed forces do not realise the short- and long term negative impacts of neglecting the ocean economy, and how the effective industrialisation of the ocean economy can benefit the current ailing economy. A public awareness campaign would create additional interest in private investment in the ocean economy, creating more jobs and more diversified revenue streams to fund public spending requirements.

D6 - Electronic: Even though most of these unregulated fishing fleets operate in dark mode, it is very unlikely that all vessels will operate with navigation systems switched off. However, system identifiers ‘cloning’ should also be considered and not be misread as errors. Eventually, all these vessels will engage in some form of communications because it is still people operated. For this reason, the use of NRSI (Navigation Radar Signal Interception) technologies should be incorporated into sensor suites due to the passive nature of its operation. Where possible, ELINT/SIGINT equipment should also be deployed through whatever available means without notifying the target fleet of its presence in area.

D7 - Psychological: PsyOps, also referred to as Cognitive Domain Operations, fall under the rubric of psychological warfare which in itself involves the concept of information operations, but more specifically disinformation operations. Basically, it implies the application of targeted information into the realms of the mind. The goal of cognitive domain operations is to achieve ‘mind superiority’ using whatever means of information distribution available for the intention of managing target audience perceptions, including social media, as a means of influencing adversary decision making processes. Looking at the current Chinese PLA concept applied in terms of cognitive domain operations, the same strategies can be applied against their assets in terms of psychological warfare, public opinion warfare, and legal warfare. In terms of PLA 5th generation warfare doctrine, to win the battle all forces should have air superiority, sea superiority, information superiority, and mind superiority. To achieve mind superiority, decision makers are subject to making decisions through reasoning based on feelings, perceptions, understandings, beliefs, and values. It also includes intangible factors such as leadership, morale, cohesion, training and experience, situational awareness, and public opinion (the main reason why the SANDF needs to improve its public image throughout the greater diverse South African society currently being selectively exploited by various domestic and foreign agitators targeting specific cultural biases for the purpose of maintaining cultural divisions). Based on the current South African security situation, there are various targeted disinformation campaigns being managed in support, and against the present government, why it is of great importance for the SANDF to become more specialised in the effective management of the psychological domain to counter adversary disinformation campaigns, especially in terms of the ocean economy being a major source of foreign resources to the PRC, but blinded from the public eyes through the manipulative control of events to cause distractions within the affected communities. The following matrix summarises current PLA disinformation strategy:

D8 - Economic: The Southern Ocean offers great wealth in natural resources, especially fishing resources, which could enable rapid economic transformation if properly utilised in a sustainable manner. At present, South Africa does not have the capability of safeguarding its ocean territories, and it has little to no means of strategic force projection. As the saying goes: “You only control what you can protect”, and unfortunately that does not reflect well on the current South African government. To effectively control these ocean territories, the government needs to implement a realistic action plan as a matter of priority before the current living ocean resources are depleted as is the case along both the East- and West Coasts of Africa. This action plan does not require the costly procurement of large fleets of warships, for there are various alternative means available if all politics and artificially created differences that exist within the present South African society are set aside to enable greater public-private cooperation through mutually beneficial public benefit arrangements (referring to activities other than commercial ‘for-profit’ arrangements). In short, it is of critical importance that South Africa develops its ocean economy with sustainable control measures and oversight while there are still resources available. The ocean economy is a major key to economic development and diversification, and it is a major requirement for sustaining and guaranteeing future sovereign integrity, and to achieve economic resilience. The question, however, is why has this major resource not been developed until now, and who are the major influencers ensuring that this resource is not developed to the benefit of the Republic using the political instrument against the future well-being of the population?

However, within this section, the following options will be discussed considering ‘budget driven defence’ as a means of expanding on current capabilities:

  • Deployment of Sensors

  • Pseudo Operations

  • Naval Auxiliary Forces

Deployment of Sensors:

Historically, South Africa operated a network of long-range patrol aircraft together with an elaborate Static Coastal Surveillance radar system. However, two decades later the country has no remaining Static Coastal Surveillance system in operation due to obsolescent equipment retirement, and none of the past envisioned Long-Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) programs have realised due to budget deficiencies. Looking at current sensors, South Africa only operates advanced warning and detection sensors on 9x SAN vessels, and 1x SAN Auxiliary vessel. At best, only 67% of these sensors can be deployed within a 1 million km² EEZ when taking into consideration scheduled maintenance cycles. What this equates to is an approximate area of around 167,000 km² per vessel sensor suite, which is an impossible task to fulfil considering the effects of spherical earth and surveillance limitations of such equipment. Examples of current limitations affecting the South African Navy sensors are as follows:

  • Limited Patrol Vessel Coverage: For a vessel equipped with sensors at a height of 15 m ASL, normal radar coverage range is between 0 – 50 km, depending on sea state conditions and weather. For planning purposes, we will use 25 km range.

  • Rugged Coastline: Lessons learnt from the previous Static Coastal Surveillance system was that South Africa’s rugged coastline caused shadowing for coastal radar systems (areas that are blind to radar detection).

  • Counter Surveillance Systems: The majority foreign flagged vessels engaged in illegal activities along the South African coastline are equipped with military grade radar warning receivers. The Chinese distant water fleet is known to be equipped with advanced military grade sensors, to include radar warning receivers, to enable them to withdraw from restricted territory upon the first sign of Own Forces activities approaching the area.

Basically, the importance of operating a multi-domain sensors system is to enable detection data fusion into an elaborate warning system to effectively link all available capabilities to form a ‘kill chain’, or in more peaceful terms, an actionable response with a high probability of success whereas the success gained (in monetary value), exceeds the response effort.


The term ‘sensors’ comprises any method used to detect the situation or intention of opposing forces for the purpose of giving warning to own forces to enable a timely, appropriate reaction. Through the ages, as a result of military tactics always emphasising the value of surprise usually achieved by means of favourable application of timing, location, routes, fire power, manoeuvring tactics, and characteristics of armaments, defenders have sought to develop warning systems to mitigate the threats of unforeseen surprise attacks. Therefore, military sensors can be categorised into two different functions, namely, Warning and Detection. Sensors (as in Detection devices), perceive either the attack, the possibilities of an attack, the nearness of the enemy/threat and its location, size, activities, weapon capabilities, or changes in political, economic, technical, or military posture. Warning systems, however, include detection devices. It is more advanced due to added functionality in the form of enhancing situational awareness in terms of judgments, decisions, and actions that follow upon receiving sensors (detection devices) information. The system of ‘Warning’ within a military context encompasses communications, analysis of information, decisions, and appropriate actions. Visual observation (by means of detection devices) still remains important, usually supplemented by telescopes, cameras, heat-sensing devices, low-light-level devices, radar, acoustic, seismic, chemical, and nuclear detection devices. The product (output), of these sensors is complicated and voluminous and often requires computerised assistance to condense, filter (according to relevance metrics), and summarise the data within a simple understandable format for the human decision maker. Often, the most expensive portion and weakest link of the warning system is not the sensor, but the communication and evaluation systems. On the 4th generation warfare (4GW) battlefield, a diverse range of sensors are required in modern warning systems.

The most common sensors available operate within the electromagnetic spectrum. What this implies is that modern detection technology is based on the application of electromagnetic (EM) radiation in various forms such as radio waves, microwaves, X-rays, and Gamma rays. Even sunlight is a form of EM energy, but visible light is only a small portion of the EM spectrum. Basically, the electromagnetic spectrum contains a broad range of electromagnetic wavelengths, the following technologies being the most useful for military application:

  • Visible Region.

  • Infrared.

  • Radar.

  • Radio Sensors.

  • Acoustic Techniques.

  • Seismic Detection.

  • Magnetic Detection.

  • Nuclear Detection.

  • Chemical Sensors.

1. The Visible Region: Although the basics of binoculars and telescopes (optics) have changed very little during the past decades, what has evolved is the mechanisms for improved application to decrease interference caused by motion and vibration. Current technologies have evolved to include gyroscopically stabilised optics for improved effectiveness when used on land based vehicles while in motion, vessels at sea, and aircraft operating at high speeds and altitudes. Further enhancements also include digital image intensifiers to enable improved detection during low-light conditions and darkness, using only the moonlight or starlight reflected from targets (passive night observation) which are then projected onto a sensitive screen, electronically amplified, and then presented at much higher light levels on a small light emitting diodes (LED) display. These systems are commonly used in Artillery systems, Armoured Fighting Vehicles/MBT’s, Helicopters, and other aircraft systems capable of supporting larger devices offering further detection range. To enhance these passive night observation systems, invisible light within the ultraviolet and near infrared range can be used (usually invisible to the naked eye). Even conventional photography as used in aerial reconnaissance is essential for long-term warning, which must have high resolution despite extreme temperature ranges and vibration interference. To cover wide areas, panoramic cameras scanning from side to side, record high-quality images. Frame cameras are commonly used for mapping.

2. Infrared: Infrared sensors on the ground, or in aircraft or spacecraft, can detect hot spots like motor-vehicle engines, hot jet engines, missile exhausts, and even campfires. They have good location accuracy and high sensitivity to signals without registering false targets (such as sun reflections). In the very near infrared region, infrared imaging detectors can reveal forms hidden by camouflage. More important are the detectors used in the far infrared region where objects at room temperature radiate sufficient energy for detection at ranges of several miles. Infrared imagery can have longer range than image intensifiers and can operate without starlight. When the humidity is high, the effective range is however reduced. Looking at old generation night sniper scopes, infrared viewers with infrared illumination has largely been replaced by digital image intensifiers equipped with laser illuminators.

3. Radar: Radar is used by ground forces for many purposes such as:

  • Portable: Infiltration detection.

  • Intermediate: Mortar- and artillery shell tracking, and firing position location detection for counter bombardment calculations.

  • Large: Early warning, search and control of air-defence weapons (interceptors and surface-to-air missiles).

On fighter aircraft, radar is predominantly used to locate and track enemy aircraft and to guide air-to-air missiles, rockets, and guns. It is used in bombers to find surface targets (static and moving), as well as to navigate and avoid obstacles. Subject to power source capabilities, large aircraft can also be equipped with powerful radar systems for Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) tasked with scanning airspace over extended distances to track enemy aircraft, and to share such data via datalink with network fighter aircraft. Certain systems also have the ability to electronically jam enemy aircraft radar systems. Within the maritime role, radar systems are used to detect surface vessels or surfaced submarines (even the snorkel device commonly found on diesel powered submarines). Radar can also be used in spacecraft to locate patterns of activity on the ground and in the air. In all applications of radar, clutter in the form of reflections from surface objects or the terrain, including the disturbed sea, competes with reflection from the targets and must be filtered out by means of appropriate software. Side-looking radars are used to obtain higher resolution than conventional radar, which drastically improves the ability to recognise surface targets. Conventional radar operates at microwave and ultrahigh frequencies that propagate in straight lines like light rays, with the consequent effect that it cannot detect any targets beyond the earth’s horizon (commonly referred to as radar horizon, or radio horizon) as a result of the earth’s curvature. To counter such restrictions, Over-The-Horizon (OTH) Radars were developed using High-Frequency (HF) wavelengths that reflect from the ionosphere.

4. Radio Sensors: Radio direction finding receivers are used to detect and locate enemy radio, including opposing forces radars (such as navigation radars found on vessels engaged in illegal activities), which can be located in much the same manner. With advanced decryption software, encrypted radio messages can also be intercepted. However, this form of warning can be countered by means of strict communications discipline (such as radio silence), or spoofing which involves the transmission of signals intended to deceive. During 1967, the Israelis transmitted voluminous radio messages from empty airfields to hide the fact that aircraft had been moved to other locations. Radio direction finders can also be used to locate nuclear bursts for the reason that a nuclear explosion generates a large burst of energy within the radio frequency region.

5. Acoustic Techniques: While electromagnetic waves do not propagate well under water, acoustic waves (sonar) do and can be used to detect submerged submarines. Sonar can intercept propeller or other noise generated by a submarine and surrounding vessels, and it can also transmit sounds and receive echoes reflected off a submarine hull. Sonar devices can be operated aboard surface ships, submarines, on floating sonobuoys, or suspended by cables from helicopters into the ocean. Sonar systems are limited in range by attenuation (weakening) of the sound energy in water as a result of ‘bending’ caused by temperature differences in water layers and extraneous noises, including reflections from the ocean floor. Acoustic receivers can also be used on land in sensors deployed near trails to detect the presence of personnel or vehicles traveling along roads, where the sounds are sent via radio signal to listening posts. Acoustic sensors are also used in monitoring nuclear explosions.

6. Seismic Detectors: Seismic detector and underground acoustic detectors called geophones, are commonly used in sensors designed to detect infiltration and vehicle movements. Both types of sensors are usually deployed in conjunction to limit false signals caused by animal movements (especially in areas where large herds of animals are known to migrate).

7. Magnetic Detectors: Sensitive magnetic detectors (magnetometers) usually equipped on maritime patrol aircraft, can detect submerged submarines as a result of magnetic field interference caused by the large metallic hull of a submarine. Buried on land, magnetometers are used to detect the passage of vehicles, especially heavy armour.

8. Nuclear Detectors: Underground nuclear explosions are detected by sensitive seismometers. To increase sensitivity (and reject natural earth tremors from being detected), seismometers are often used in large arrays extending for hundreds of miles. For atmospheric or explosions beyond the earth’s atmosphere, radio-pulse receivers, light flash and acoustic detectors are used along with devices that measure radiation fallout. Aircraft and rockets can be used to collect radioactive debris, while high-altitude satellites carry detectors for gamma rays and other emissions.

9. Chemical Sensors: Concealed chemical sensors which are sensitive to minute amounts of excreted body products, are capable of detecting personnel from short distances.


The most cost-effective solution going forward for South Africa is to establish a multi-sensor networked solution as a matter of priority, mainly comprised of the following detection systems:

  • Coastal Surveillance Radar (Fixed and Mobile).

  • Navigation Radars on all moveable [available] platforms (Vessels, Aircraft).

  • Navigation Radar Signal Interception (NRSI) on all vessels and aircraft.

  • Optical (Daylight/FLIR).

Fortunately, these technologies already exist within the domestic defence industry in South Africa, and the procurement and implementation of these systems depend solely on government’s willingness to contribute towards the safeguarding and development of the ocean economy. Looking at sensor requirements, the following basic minimum specifications are recommended:

1. Multi-Mission Radar: 3D AESA Naval Surface and Air Surveillance (ANSAS)

  • Active Electronic Scanned Array (EASA) multi-mission 3-Dimensional naval surveillance and target acquisition radar.

  • Operation in C-Band (NATO G-Band), with lower (S-Band) and higher (X-Band) frequency capabilities.

  • High tracking accuracy compatible with contemporary SAMS’s to support effective air defence operations.

  • Integrated IFF antenna with Mode 5/S capability.

  • Software defined for simple upgrading during lifetime, with a compact installation footprint.

2. Multi-Mission Radar: Small Footprint

  • Ideal for use on smaller combat vessels, auxiliary vessels, or any other commercial specification vessels.

  • Active Electronic Scanned Array (EASA) radar, including integrated IFF antenna with Mode 5/S capability.

  • Modular independent powers supply unit, cooling unit, and dry air supply.

  • Maintainer computer system to enable software updates.

  • Above deck installation < 850 kg, and below deck installation < 850 kg.

All systems should be capable of being integrated into a secure network to enable data fusion.

Pseudo Operations:

Based on the cost of impact on the economy in terms of lost revenue, Pseudo Operations in the form of a covert surveillance and SIGINT capability should be considered for use by the South African Navy in cooperation with Defence Intelligence. This idea is not new, for the Vietnam People’s Navy operates a fleet of pseudo trawlers equipped with military surveillance equipment, EW and SIGINT sensors for the purpose of monitoring PLAN activities within the South China Sea disputed territories. Not only is this method extremely cost effective, but it has the Chinese PLAN on alert and cautious when operating close to Vietnamese controlled territories, especially due to the reason that Vietnam is applying the same maritime militia doctrine against the Chinese. Significant point of note is that much of the Vietnamese surveillance equipment are sourced from South Africa.

Naval Auxiliary Forces:

Naval Auxiliary Forces refer to all maritime resources capable of supporting naval operations. In general, these forces are not primary combatants, although they do offer certain limited value in enhancing naval operations during times of peace and war. In this article, the following types of auxiliaries will be discussed:

1. State Owned Maritime Resources: South Africa has a unique opportunity to establish its own fleet of fishing vessels managed privately as a profitable commercial enterprise (meaning: not dependent on government funding and/or subsidies). However, due to the current state of government mismanagement and political interference in existing SOE’s (such as Transnet, SAA, Denel, ESKOM, SA Post Office), the business model should include private equity investors with the means of offering shareholding options to the general public through the means of a public company listed on the JSE, which would still allow the government to participate as a stakeholder to have direct oversight into business operations, as well as earn profits towards self-financing other government spending requirements. Looking at current Chinese resources operating within the Southern Ocean, an initial investment of around 250 modern commercial fishing vessels (and support vessels) should be sufficient to enable viable job numbers, to be further improved by enabling the existing shipyards in South Africa to design and build all the vessels required for such an operation (with all raw materials sourced locally). The state could be a major shareholder in this venture to require that all vessels be equipped with small footprint multi-mission AESA radar units with integrated IFF, including network integration with ZA-Link, the SANDF tactical data link. The advantages of establishing a national fishing fleet are envisioned as follows:

  • Re-establish and expand the South African ships register.

  • Development of a commercially funded green water and limited blue water naval auxiliary system which could serve as multi-mission platforms equipped with modular sensor suites during peace time, but upgradeable with a variety of modularised weapons systems and sensors for utilisation during war (Iran has proven the value of using smaller low-tech vessels of modular design allowing rapid customisation to a variety of mission profiles using modular weapons systems. Iran considers aircraft carriers as its major maritime threat, and their solution to countering such threat is through swarming tactics using large fleets of cheaper vessels and disposable drones to enable total encirclement and overwhelming of sensors and defensive weapons systems on target vessels).

  • Establish a national fishing fleet exceeding the capabilities of the Chinese distant water fishing fleet within Southern African regional territories, operating predominantly within the RSA Southern Ocean area of operations, but operating as a for-profit commercial enterprise independent of government funding as not to burden the restricted defence budget.

  • Create long-term sustainable career employment within the domestic seafaring industry, as well as technical skilled employment within the manufacturing and sustainment industry as long as all R&D and hardware development is maintained within the domestic market.

  • Extend the maritime ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) footprint of the armed forces without major capital investment in costly military hardware in the form of offshore patrol vessels, frigates, etc. India currently operates the 2nd largest naval fleet in the world in terms of number of vessels and the Indian Navy itself conceded that ships alone are not the solution to enabling an effective maritime protection strategy (especially when countering unconventional threats that do not necessarily fall within the military domain).

  • Offer alternative employment avenues to retiring service members of the Navy, thus retaining Naval maritime skills for longer to the benefit of the country’s economy. The South African Navy could also benefit by providing further career options to qualified beneficiaries of its Military Skills Development program.

  • By dominating the greater South African ocean territories, ocean resources can also be managed in a more long-term sustainable manner, and not be destroyed as is currently the case with both the east- and west coast of Africa.

Basically, the modus operandi for this concept implies flooding the target area with South African flagged fishing vessels, therefore limiting foreign fishing vessels access to such marine resources which affects their profitability (due to the distance these fleets operate away from their respective home ports). However, to engage in these tactics in direct competition with the more aggressive foreign fishing fleets, these vessels will require protection from the armed forces as not to be attacked by these larger foreign fishing fleets (which are common tactics used against smaller operators competing for the same fishing resources).

2. Private Owned Maritime Resources: South Africa is inherently a maritime nation, and collectively the private sector owns a diverse range of vessels offering diverse capabilities. Safeguarding of the South African oceans are within the best interests of all seafarers, for the uncontrolled foreign exploitation of this valuable resource will affect everyone, especially the coastal communities who are dependent on the ocean as a source of living. Volunteerism is also a common trait of the majority South Africans which is clearly reflected by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), a world class donor funded South African NGO staffed by non-remunerated volunteers with a rich heritage of professionalism and lifesaving on par with the services provided by institutions such as the US Coast Guard who offers these services within US territories utilising career driven rescuers. In addition to this valuable resource, nearly all coastal towns have small harbours and an abundance of qualified and experienced seafarers doing a variety of activities at sea, or in support of the existing commercial offshore industry. There is also a large pool of retired military personnel living and operating within the maritime sector of these towns, spread along the whole coastline. Based on the existing capabilities within the private sector, the South African Navy should conduct an audit to verify the following available maritime resources, and how these resources could be integrated into a greater maritime ISR strategy to increase maritime domain awareness without being totally dependable on extremely limited Naval resources:

  • Database of all seafarers (including qualifications and experience), located along the whole coastline, and which of these seafarers are willing to volunteer their services when required in support of SAN objectives.

  • Database of all types of vessels and capabilities, where they are located, and necessary contact details of owners (and which owners are willing to support SAN operations during emergencies on a voluntary, non-remunerated basis). Vessels should be categorised in terms of capabilities referring to humanitarian and disaster relief operations, search and rescue, riverine operations, inshore- and offshore patrol, cargo payload limitations, endurance, and suitability to support installation of modular sensor suites (such as mast height, power supply, sea state classification, etc).

  • Commercial vessel owners who operate offshore vessels within the EEZ willing to accommodate more advanced sensor suites linked to a centralised operations centre to enable enhanced real-time area surveillance and data sharing to increase maritime situational awareness within the EEZ. The knowledge of such systems aboard private operated vessels will offer great deterrence value against likely illegal/unregulated operators.

  • Establish basic training guidelines to develop a Naval Auxiliary volunteers program allowing private vessel operators/masters/skippers to better understand the concepts of maritime protection, and how to react and report any forms of observed infringements or suspect activity. This initiative could include adding a Naval Auxiliary module to the existing coastal skipper license curriculum to improve reporting procedures and awareness of the importance of safeguarding the ocean territories.

Supplementary to determining private sector maritime capabilities, the SAN will have the opportunity to assess the following:

  • Identify vessel operators who are familiar by reputation to support maritime based illegal activities, such as vessels capable of supporting offshore logistics operations (such as vessel refuelling operations), and cargo transfer at sea (smuggling and unregulated import/export of restricted, regulated and undeclared goods).

  • Identify vessels and vessel operators who are involved in illegal narcotics trade into South African territory (Example: The use of South African registered sail yachts for the illegal smuggling of wholesale narcotics via small ports such as Knysna Lagoon, utilising the pretences of leisure yachting and the protection of private upmarket security estates such as Thesen Islands as a distribution point. This example is not unique, for there are various other smaller ports being utilised in the same manner along the greater South African coastline).

  • Establish a volunteer network of information sources amongst the law-abiding maritime community (yacht clubs, deep sea angling clubs, boat clubs, tour operators, training providers), to report suspected misconduct directly to the SAN joint operations structures (and Defence Intelligence), since various illegal activities within the private community are done with the knowledge (and protection) of corrupt law enforcement officials.

3. Sponsored Reserves: The SANDF should explore the opportunities offered through a concept of ‘Sponsored Reserves’. The concept implies the use of individuals serving as members of a work force of a company (or military independent organisation), which is contracted to the SANDF within a military support capacity by means of having accepted a reserve liability to be called up for active duty on either a remunerated or volunteer unpaid basis. The one commodity that South Africa has in abundance is unemployed youth, and the majority of this population group (currently exploited for the purpose of participating in acts of crime as a means of survival), are willing to serve within an organisation to gain employment (and life) experience in service of a greater cause for a limited period of time without remuneration (limited to a maximum continuous period of 12 months, for example), but provided with basic needs such as rations, accommodation, uniforms and equipment to perform the required duties. The process of ‘contracting’ to the SANDF can be categorised in terms of technical skills requirements, ranging from paid to unpaid wholesale service agreements.

4. SAAF Reserves: One of the major deficient capabilities that exist within the South African armed forces are:

  • Light Observation Aircraft

  • Flying Hours

  • Pilots.

To circumvent these limitations, the SANDF needs to become more 'liberal' in terms of it's SAAF Reserve Force structures which is within its present state somewhat dysfunctional and obsolete (mainly due to budget restrictions). South Africa has a well developed and regulated General Aviation sector (and supporting industry), which allows the SAAF the opportunity to develop various Civil Air Patrol Squadrons across the country which is operated solely on a volunteer, non-remunerated basis. A good starting point for developing such a capability under the banner of the SAAF (South African Air Force), will be to approach the various Aero Clubs and Flight Training Schools. Many of these clubs consist of retired SAAF members who are familiar with SAAF operational procedures, and the majority of the South African pilot community is very forthcoming to providing assistance where they can, with the resources available at their disposal. An example of how effective the General Aviation community is, during the initial stages of the KZN mass organised civil unrest and looting of essential commodities, the private sector aviation community was called upon to provide an air bridge to fly in whatever forms of aid they could deliver to the affected communities, especially basic food items and medical supplies. This activity was extremely well coordinated, with absolutely no input from either the SA Government, nor the SANDF. The point is, the skills, expertise and willingness to assist exists within the General Aviation community. The SAAF just needs to capitalise on this capability and recognise this resource as an asset to enhance national security measures. However, looking at a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron concept, the SAAF only needs to provide operational guidance in terms of requirements based on the performance capabilities of the available resources. CAP squadrons, functioning within the legal framework of the CAA, can provide an essential, but basic airborne surveillance capability in support of both the SANDF and SAPS along the coastal baseline and land borders, where both these institutions lack such required capabilities. Most light aircraft owners have a personal allocation of flying hours each month, and the majority will undoubtedly dedicate a portion of their personal flying hours in support of a greater cause to the benefit of advancing national interests. What the SAAF can provide in return, is a formalised professional development curriculum to improve airmanship in line with SAAF standards, as well as identify and facilitate the advancement of suitable candidates to eventually serve within the Conventional Reserve Force structures, or even apply to become permanent members of the SAAF flying structures if suitably qualified. The cost savings advantages offered by recruiting future pilot wings course candidates from an existing aviation experienced community under SAAF guardianship also holds many benefits.


South African Navy Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS) members conducting joint forces training

The single greatest deficiency that exists between the various government stakeholders is training. For this reason, it could be to the benefit of the South African Navy to provide a bridging training course based on the Maritime Reaction Squadron training curriculum for all other frontline government stakeholder agencies to ensure compatibility in operations when at sea, especially when engaging in joint verification and interception operations. Due to budget considerations, other government agencies should be charged for sending delegates to these courses.


Developing a Maritime Protection Strategy is not simple for various reasons ranging from prevailing political influences to understanding the effects of international treaties and foreign diplomatic relations (and more specifically concessions). The South African scenario is extremely complex due to factors relating to its geographical location, as well as the strategic importance of control over this region in terms of future strategic power ambitions amongst the great powers. What we also need to take into consideration is historical factors, such as past colonial influences and interests, foreign direct investment, as well as the continuance of a ‘special’ trade agreement heritage with past allies (of convenience), during the period of economic sanctions. Looking at the Chinese strategy in detail for the purpose of better understanding how Beijing exploits (and sidelines) growing international trade restrictions which came into effect during the Trump Administration, we need to take the ‘One China’ policy more seriously, for within the present day global political spectrum, there are more evidence indicating greater economic cooperation, inter-dependence and integration between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). If we look beyond the façade of war drums that exist between these two territories, we will find how the PRC is benefiting from maintaining Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) ‘separated’ from mainland China from an international public perception perspective as a safeguard to guaranteeing future global trade, enable plausible deniability in foreign territory operations, and as a mechanism for sidelining growing international trade discontent (such as the unrestricted transfer of USD currency transactions relating to regulated foreign trade).

Looking at the development of an effective Maritime Protection Strategy under conditions of “Budget Driven Defence” as in the case of the South African armed forces, a simple strategy would be to focus on the following basic safety and security elements, namely:

GUIDE: Intelligence

PROTECT: Law Enforcement

DEFEND: Military

To develop an effective response plan, decision makers should only ask the question: ‘How will the PRC react if a South African distant water fishing fleet the size, composition, and capability comparable to the current Chinese DWF, entered the Chinese maritime domain for the purpose of engaging in commercial fishing activities and maritime surveillance?’. The answers to this question should constitute the appropriate action plan. The point is, as soon as decision makers accept these ’fishing’ fleets as a threat to national security, then only will the armed forces be successful in countering its activities successfully. Looking at it from another perspective, the same actions should be taken, including the application of force (by sinking vessels where necessary), as is the current methods used by the PLAN and PRC Coast Guard in response to ‘infringing’ foreign fishing vessels within so-called disputed territories in the South China Sea. However, the main challenge for South Africa lies with leadership, and unfortunately within the political government, competent leadership who are dedicated to achieving all that is necessary to the benefit of South Africans and the constructive development of the country’s economy is mostly excluded.

In summary, South Africa has various options available, even under current conditions of poor governance and severe budget restrictions. However, to enable these options, informed decisions need to be made.

“If you are a lamb, and you argue with a wolf, you do so with a pistol in the hand.”

General Constand Viljoen

(Chief SADF, Retired)


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