A technology intervention helps the SA Navy apprehend pirates

Incidents of piracy on the east and the west coasts of Africa in recent years resulted in shipping companies reconsidering the Cape sea route. South Africa needed to act to ensure that such incidences do not escalate, as it would have dire consequences for trade.

In stepping up to the fight against acts of piracy on the trade routes around the Cape, the South African Navy realised that their existing anti-piracy deployment capabilities needed to be expanded. In order for South Africa’s four multi-purpose naval ships (frigates) to be effectively used to apprehend pirates, a smaller boat carrying a reaction force needs to be dispatched from the frigate. During a piracy incident, every second counts, which means that the boats must be rapidly deployed, while the frigate is on the move.

The CSIR’s maritime security group already had experience in the field of controlled surface deployment of boats from moving ships. A removable davit system – a small crane typically used on a ship to suspend or lower a lifeboat – could be the solution. The CSIR developed a davit system for the frigates that was then extensively tested along the Cape Peninsula. Tests were performed with a range of boats used by the Maritime Reaction Squadron and other operational forces.

Deploying a small vessel from a moving ship is a risky activity – the waves directly next to the moving ship can be very rough and the smaller vessel is at risk of capsizing or being smashed into the larger vessel.

The CSIR’s davit system compensates for the wave movement through a hydraulic wave-compensating system, which matches the movement of the waves to the movement of the boat being deployed. The davit system ensures that forces are evenly distributed along the deck. The base also houses the drive system, with local and remote controls, stored energy for a full deployment and recovery operation, as well as the logistic support equipment needed for the boat.

Niël Goslett, a mechanical engineer from the CSIR maritime security research group, says, “Ships are normally designed with davit systems as part of the equipment with all the relevant load factors designed into the hull structures. In this case, the system had to be developed to have the minimum impact on an already-designed hull structure in an area not intended for boat work. The CSIR managed not only to meet the structural challenge, but also to come up with a very innovative, removable davit system that can be fitted, as well as positioned according to the SA Navy’s operational needs.”

The complete system fits onto an ISO-container footprint, mounted and adapted on the ship’s deck. The davit system can accommodate boats of various hull-shapes, weighing up to five tons. Two of these davit systems are typically fitted to the ship, with another two boats housed in the ship’s boat bay on CSIR-developed cradle systems. The boats, as well as the crew, can be lowered and retrieved safely by the davit system, with the hosting ship underway, saving valuable time and enabling forces to respond to piracy threats faster.

From workshop to operational success

While sea trials were underway, South Africa – through the SA Navy – was called upon to prepare for anti-piracy operations. The Navy requested the use of the newly developed davit system to use it in their combat exercise. With the pilot model hoisting system installed, the Navy successfully demonstrated the operational viability of the system during this exercise.

Apart from successfully supporting integrated Naval operations on the east coast of Africa to counter piracy, the capability has also allowed the Navy to conduct extended operations on the west coast of Africa. This ensures that the South African National Defence Force meets its mandated responsibilities with regard to the Southern African Development Community.

More systems were subsequently developed to outfit Navy frigates, as well as the supply vessel, SAS Drakensberg.


Niël Goslett


What is a davit system?

A davit system is a crane-like device, typically one of a pair that is fitted to a ship’s deck. It is used for the launch and recovery of smaller vessels carried by the mother ship. Other commercial uses include suspending or lowering equipment from a ship’s deck.

An idea that works for the SA Navy

The davit system allows the SA Navy to host fast-surface vessels on the already-designed hull structure of South African-owned frigates in an area not intended for boat work. This enhances the vessel’s capability to include search and seizure, interdiction, insertion and recovery over beaches, as well as search and rescue.


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