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Project Biro OPV / IPV

A request for information for Biro-category offshore and inshore patrol vessels was issued to yards in 2011 and the South African navy expected to issue a request for price quotations before the end of 2012. The origin of the "Biro" nomenclature is entirely obscure, as a "Biro" is a brand of ball point pen, the word having become generic for ball point pen in many countries. The navy also had the proposed Project Millennium landing dock ship requirement [one to three multi-mission "strategic support ships", formerly one strategic lift vessel was envisaged] and Project Hotel requirement for a new hydrographic survey vessel to replace the ageing Protea (expected to have a secondary OPV role, and similar to the project Biro OPV ship).

The original concept for Biro was the acquisition of eight OPVs outfitted to accom- modate different containerised systems, allowing the ships to fulfil different operational roles, as required. The original plan evolved, becoming three multirole OPVs and five multirole IPVs (much bigger than the current IPVs). By the admission of Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africas Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, BIRO had been shelved.

In order to ensure a secure maritime region along the long RSA coast and to assist other countries in securing their maritime regions, the SA Navy needs suitable patrol vessels that can be used in other roles of diving support, being a platform to support portable mine countermeasures equipment and any additional collateral tasks. Acquiring multi-purpose hulls, where common hulls are used for vessels that are configured for different roles, will reduce running and maintenance costs. The hull design could also be used by other African countries, resulting on more interoperable equipment and therefore, an opportunity for closer co-operation between African Navies. This, plus the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment will reduce the costs of the vessels.

By acquiring a suitable platform to project forces ashore, and to provide the necessary medical and logistic support in times of disasterse, the SA Navy will be in a better position to satisfy the Military Strategic objective to promote peace, security and stability in the region. For this reason the acquisition of a Landing Platform Dock or Landing Helicopter Dock is planned for the future.

But on 22 February 2011 Sisulu stated: "... yes we would be considering depending what the strategy is and what Cabinet agrees to. We would be considering re-energising Project Biro because as you well know some of our free gates is too big to remove around the coast and we have been discussing, we discussed it sometime last year and shelved it because it was not such an immediate option for us. But we might be getting back to that depending on the outcome of the strategy that we will be presenting to Cabinet."

Media reports indicated that the Simons Townbased Institute for Maritime Technology had been issued a request for quotation by the SAN for strategic technology and engineering support services during the project study phase of the acquisition of a multi-mission patrol capability. Furthermore, the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) tabled by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in February 2012 noted that the National Treasury will fund the acquisition of new ships for the Navy from the 2013/14 financial year, specifically the replacement of the offshore and inshore patrol vessels, procurement of new harbour tugs and the replacement of small boats.

A number of shipyards are aiming for Project Biro, which concerns six (formerly 10) large multi-mission offshore patrol vessels. Frances DCNS brought its Gowind class OPV LAdroit to Cape Town to demonstrate the type, which would be built by Nautic Africa in Cape Town as local South African construction is one requirement for the project. Turkeys Istanbul Shipyard is another yard interested in the South African Navys Project Biro. Some of the other shipyards competing for Biro include Damen, Lrssen/South African Shipyards, Fincantieri, Austal, Abeking & Rasmussen/Veecraft Marine, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Navantia.

Nautic Africa (formerly KND Projects) is offering the Gowind class offshore patrol vessels. In September 2011 it was announced that DCNS and KND Naval Design (which contracts work to Nautic Africa) had signed a memorandum of understanding for the promotion, construction and sale of Gowind vessels in South Africa. For the Inshore Patrol Vessel (IPV) component of Biro, Nautic Africa has a partnership with Austal in Australia to built under license their 58 meter Cape Class patrol vessels. Nautic Africa CEO James Fisher was confident in the abilities of his company to produce vessels of European-standard quality, but at a 30% cheaper rate.

Southern African Shipyards, the biggest shipyard in southern Africa, is in partnership with Germanys Lurssen to offer its vessels to the South African Navy. The main offering for Biro was the Lurssen Patrol Vessel PV 80, with a length of 80 metres, a speed of 22 knots and a displacement of 1,625 t.

Veecraft Marine partnered with the German firm Abeking & Rasmussen for Projects Biro and Hotel, offering its SWATH Offshore Patrol Boat. Abeking & Rasmussens SWATH range features vessels from 25 to 75 meters in length. A 25 meter long SWATH vessels was offered for the Inshore Patrol Vessel component of Biro, while a 70 meter long vessel with a helicopter deck was offered for the Offshore Patrol Vessel component. Abeking & Rasmussen would build the first ship in Germany to prove that all systems meet specifications, while the remainder of the ships will be built in South Africa.

Veecraft has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Navantia to market its Avante class offshore and inshore patrol vessels to the South African Navy.

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