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PROJECT BIRO – WHAT IT MEANS FOR PARTNERSHIPS AND THE AFRICAN COASTLINE

The South African Navy’s, Project Biro, has attracted the attention of local and foreign shipyards that are currently competing to build three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) and three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) by 2024/25 at an estimated cost of R6 billion. The patrol vessels specifications include armament with a 30mm gun for inshores (IPVs) and 76mm gun for the offshores (OPVs). According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, South African Navy sources stated that the new vessels will replace the strike craft and minehunters acquired in the 1970s and 1980s, and will undoubtedly boost South African maritime efforts.

Armscor, the South African state-owned entity who is in the process of evaluating tender submissions, strictly requires that the vessels be built in a South African shipyard with 60% local content, providing foreign companies the opportunity to access the lucrative African market by partnering with South African shipyards.

There have been several acquisitions within the South African shipyard industry most notably for The Nautic Group, specialists in the design and construction of highly customised ships. Paramount Group, a global leader in the defence industry, acquired a majority stake in The Nautic Group. In 2014, Nautic acquired Veecraft Marine to consolidate the manufacturing of naval vessels in Cape Town, South Africa. Therefore Paramount Naval Systems and Veecraft are now subsidiaries of The Nautic Group who has partnered with a number of foreign shipyards for Project Biro.

For Project Biro, Paramount Naval Systems is teaming up with Spanish company Navantia and Australian company Austal. Navantia is offering its three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) also known as the Avante 3000 (maritime action vessel) or BAM design. The vessels will be built in South Africa combining Spanish expertise and design with a South African cost structure. The Avante 3000 has an overall length of 93.90 metres, a maximum beam of 14.20 metres, a full load displacement of 2 840 tons, and a helicopter flight deck. Austal is offering its three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) based on the Austal Cape Class patrol vessels, which are currently used for maritime border security by the Australian Border Force.

French company DCNS has partnered with Paramount Naval Systems to offer the Gowind offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) for Project Biro. DCNS has a long naval history for maritime protection missions. James Fisher, CEO of Nautic, stated that: “The Gowind is the most technologically advanced of all vessels proposed for the South African OPV programme.” However, it is unclear as to whether DCNS is still competing for Project Biro as the company no longer views South Africa as a strategic country. It seems as if the partnership signed between both companies remains in place for the rest of the continent.

German company, Abeking & Rasmussen, has partnered with DCD Marine to offer a 66-metre-long vessel for the offshore patrol vessel (OPV) component based upon the OPV Bad Bramstedt. For the inshore patrol vessel (IPV) component they are offering a 25 metre long SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) vessel. SWATH’s innovative hull delivers maximum performance in rough seas. Abeking & Rasmussen are set to build the first ship in Germany to ensure all specifications are met with the remainder of the vessels to be built in South Africa.

Lurssen, another German Company, has partnered with Southern African Shipyards to offer its Lurssen Patrol Vessel PV 80 with a length of 80 metres, a speed of 22 knots, a displacement of 1 486 tons, and a helicopter landing deck. Lurssen has a sound reputation spanning more than 140 years in the shipbuilding industry.

Other shipyards competing for Project Biro include Damen, Vard (Fincantieri), Istanbul Shipyard, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), and Poly Technologies. Partnerships with local South African shipyards are crucial for foreign companies looking to diversify globally and pursue maritime opportunities in Africa. For local South African shipyards, foreign partnerships pave the way for the transfer of skills and technology. Together with sound defence relationships, these partnerships can only amplify and provide a much needed boost to the industry, which according to Southern African Shipyards CEO, Prasheen Maharaj, remains uncompetitive.

2016-09_Project Biro

Securing the South African coastline with modern patrol vessels is long overdue. The newly acquired patrol vessels will assist with a number of maritime functions such as monitoring, search and rescue, logistical and medical support, and an array of collateral tasks. The inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) could patrol the coastline for criminal activities while the offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) with their helicopter decks, could operate further out in rough seas. The completion of Project Biro will place the South African Navy in a prime position to promote cooperation, peace, security, and stability in the region.

Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA Strategic Intelligence

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