Control of the dockyard at Simon’s Town, long regarded as one of South Africa most important naval and military assets, has been returned to the SA Navy.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, made the announcement as part of her budget vote speech to the National Assembly earlier this month bringing to an end years of speculation about the future of the dockyard.
“In September 2015 I instructed that the Armscor Dockyard in Simon’s Town be run under a business model as recommended by the Defence Review 2015. The Naval Dockyard is returned to the control of the Navy,” she said.
In the just on nine years that control and management of the dockyard was in the hands of Armscor, the national defence and security acquisition agency, problems and “challenges” were reported more often than work well done.
According to a recent Armscor annual report: “The year under review continued to be marred by challenges of insufficient capacity, capabilities and funding. The funding gap still exists to maintain a baseline support capability but dockyard resources reflect a shortfall in both its human and technical capability to fulfil its intended capability to support the full SA Navy upkeep capability”.
A more recent annual report, for the 2014/15 financial year noted “challenges of insufficient capacity, capabilities and funding are still experienced” with regard to the dockyard.
To overcome these problems the then new chief executive of Armscor, Kevin Wakeford, told defenceWeb a global service provider with extensive experience and expertise in transforming, operating and managing dockyards successfully” was appointed to undertake a modernisation study to improve efficiencies at the dockyard.
Among problems identified over the years of Armscor’s management were insufficient capacity, capabilities and insufficient funding. Manpower levels were said to be “well below” the minimum needed to ensure maintenance and repair support. The dockyard has also lost capacity in the technical domain, seen as a critical support requirement. Exacerbating matters is that employment of permanent labour has been “impossible” due to budget and other funding restraints.
This is expected to change with the appointment of a suitably qualified operator to run the dockyard, leaving the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) as its custodian.
While nothing has been confirmed Wakeford said discussions were underway with Denel Integrated Systems and Maritime, a new division of the State owned defence industry conglomerate.
It was due to be made public at last year’s Maritime Africa conference and exhibition in Cape Town that was cancelled at the last minute due to non-compliance with the National Conventional Arms Control Act but has been in existence for about 18 months now.
Chief executive officer Ismail Dockrat said in October the new division is meant to diversify Denel into a range of new capabilities and new markets, one of which is the maritime market.
“Our key objective in the next year is to become a strategic partner to the SA Navy and from that foundation, to play a broader role in terms of supporting other navies in the region as well as working with the South African shipbuilding and ship repair industry to grow the industry to the benefit of everybody in that sector,” Dockrat said at the time.