New Navy Vessels (Updated)

SA Economy Benefits from the Building of New Navy Vessels

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On Saturday, the 23rd of February 2019, Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT) hosted a keel laying ceremony, marking the start of construction on the first of three Multi-mission Inshore Patrol Vessels that form part of the South African Navy’s Project Biro. These vessels will aid in protecting the country from threats such as trafficking, illegal fishing and piracy, as well as support job creation and enterprise development.

The keel laying ceremony is a maritime tradition that dates back to the times of wooden ships and is said to bring luck to the ship during construction and to the captain and crew during the vessel’s later life. The tradition involves placing a newly minted coin under the keel (the primary structural backbone of the ship around which the hull is built) and building over it. 

The coin laid at the DSCT event was a commemorative medal made in honour of the late President, Nelson Mandela’s 1993 Nobel Peace Prize win. The coin was placed under the keel by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The keel bar was then lowered on top of the coin and welded closed – a privilege that went to Nobelungu Tshangase from Velddrif on the West Coast, the top performing apprentice at Damen’s training school which has educated over 150 young people from previously disadvantaged communities since being established in 2010 and recently enrolled a new class of 10.

Addressing the event which was attended by several members of parliament, dignitaries and navy personnel, DSCT Director, Sam Montsi, said: “The event today signifies the start of the building of Project Biro. Over the years, our shipyard has undertaken many projects for local and international clients but none as significant as Project Biro. This project is being built and delivered within the agreed specifications, timelines, and budgets.

“In addition, at our yard more than one million man-hours of work will be created during the construction of Project Biro. Within this will be the sustainment and/or creation of over 1,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“We are also supporting and facilitating opportunities for local businesses and have selected equipment and service suppliers that have 51% black ownership or are owned by black military veterans. We will be working with these Small Medium and Micro Enterprises to improve their performance which will lead to improvements in their product or service offering, business processes, lead times and delivery. This will ensure that non-traditional suppliers cease to operate on the peripheries of the formal economy and increasingly become more sustainable.

“Over and above this, we are striving to increase local content beyond the 60% stipulated in the contract. The constraints, however, remain international maritime classification requirements. A further challenge is the non-manufacture locally of some specified high-end items such as marine engines, propulsion systems, electronics systems and generators. We will endeavour to source these items through local agents to spread the benefits of the project.”

Arnout Damen, Chief Commercial Officer of the Damen Shipyard Group added: “The Group is immensely encouraged by the award of Project Biro to Damen Shipyards Cape Town. The Group stands by the shipyard and will work with the local teams including Armscor and the South African Navy to ensure that Biro is built and delivered successfully on time. It is our intention that at the end of Project Biro we should have achieved significant transfer of technologies and skills, as well as facilitated growth of enterprises as envisioned in these imperatives.

“I can assure the gathering that there are indeed great opportunities to be realised in the Blue Economy. However, exploiting these, in my humble view, will be greatly facilitated by careful planning and constructive engagements between the Government and its various organs on the one hand, and the private sector on the other. The Damen Group has expertise and experiences that can be instructive in this regard. In a few countries where we are involved in shipyards and dockyards, we have successfully facilitated the development and growth of the shipbuilding industry and revitalisation of dockyards in collaboration with national navies and other parties. We are willing to engage with the Government and other relevant bodies to explore how we can assist in this initiative.”

The Minister stated that the vessels delivered by Project BIRO will be work horses of the South African Navy, reducing the load off the Navy’s existing fleet of frigates. “While prevalence of piracy has somewhat declined, the extent of maritime crime observed – including trafficking, illegal fishing and smuggling – has been on the increase indicating that the maritime domain lacks law enforcement. The new vessels would be well suited to this task.

“Project Biro’s expanded capacity would then enable South Africa to mount cheaper, more focused and more effective missions and operations against the above-mentioned threats and challenges it encounters in its maritime domain, especially illegal fishing and trafficking. This improved capacity will be of immediate and immense national benefit. Of particular interest will be the possible impact on maritime security in the Southern African Development Community, the rest of Africa and beyond.

“With the building of the patrol vessels, we are demonstrating that we are truly an industrial powerhouse and most importantly, highlighting that the South African Defence Industry has the requisite capabilities and capacity, and that government spending has a positive socio-economic spin off on our society at large.”

“The President of the Republic, in his now famous ‘Thuma Mina Campaign’, has invited everybody to step forward in their areas of strength and assist him and the Government in rebuilding the economy and creating opportunities for our people. I want to say to the President and to the Government, that DSCT and the Global Damen Group are stepping forward, we are raising our hands and saying: in the Blue Economy ‘thuma thina’, send us. We have the expertise, we have the technologies, we have the infrastructure, we have global experiences, and we can facilitate financial resources to help South Africa exploit the massive opportunities presented by the country’s Blue Economy,” concluded Montsi.

The first vessel is due to be completed by early 2021 and is set to start serving the people of South Africa from June of that same year. The second and third are scheduled for delivery in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

For more information, visit

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