12 November 2013 by Guy Martin/Oscar Nkala - defenceWeb
The Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Marine Unit has commissioned seven new Guardian BR850 interceptor boats from Nautic Africa, which are being deployed on Lake Malawi.
They were commissioned by President Joyce Banda last week at their Monkey Bay base, on the shore of Lake Malawi. The boats will be used to patrol the lake, and will also engage in VIP transport/escort, search and rescue and disaster relief operations. They were delivered in pairs over the last three months.
James Fisher, CEO of Nautic Africa, told defenceWeb that the contract for the seven boats includes training and maintenance support over a period of five years and that Malawi is in discussions to purchase additional larger boats from the company. One option could be purchasing a 35 metre patrol boat and using it as a ‘mother ship’ from which to launch BR850s, allowing Malawi to cover a much larger area of the lake.
Although the BR850s were delivered without weapons, Malawi intends to arm them – the interceptors have weapons mounts for items such as 12.7 mm machineguns.
According to the Malawi News Agency, the delivery is a big boost to the operational capability of the Marine Unit, which has struggled to accomplish its mission of securing the country's maritime domain since its foundation in 1978.
The Malawi Defence Force’s maritime wing has only a few patrol boats in its inventory, including a couple of armed launches, a dozen Zodiacs and several small patrol craft, including two Namacurras donated by the South African Navy.
Fisher said the delivery of the BR850s was a major boost to the Marine Unit as the boats are fast, hardy and strong and suitable for beach landings and navigating shallow creeks and other waterways.
Banda said the acquisition of the boats was part of a comprehensive government strategy to improve the working and living conditions of the defence force.
"(The) government is committed to improving the living conditions for all men and women in uniform who are currently performing remarkably despite the lack of modern resources and the poor living conditions they are enduring. I am pleased to report that our soldiers who are on the peacekeeping assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are performing excellently and that is an indication of the well disciplined military that Malawi owns," Banda said.
The Guardian BR850 is an 8.5 mm aluminium craft with a full load displacement of 3.8 tonnes and can be carried aboard larger vessels for use on boarding operations – it has a single-point hoist mechanism, making it easy for mother ships to hoist the boat onto the water.
The craft has a 2.8 m beam and 60 cm draught - this shallow draft combined with a 373 kW diesel with a tunnel propeller drive allows operations close to the shore and in river deltas.
They craft has a maximum speed of 42 knots with a range of 295 km at that speed, or a 700 km range at 20 knots for inshore patrol or similar tasks. It is designed for a crew of two with space for a six-strong boarding party, and can be fitted with shock-mitigating seats if intended for high-speed intercept missions. Systems include a GPS/chart plotter and a 2 kW 4G broadband radar. Ballistic protection is available using Nautic’s SuperShield armour, which protects to NATO Level 3+. However, this adds a couple of tons of weight.
Nautic began sea trials of the 8.5 metre Guardian BR850 in December 2012. Several African customers have already ordered, and received, the BR850. Nautic Africa recently concluded a R600 million deal to build several 35 metre multi-role patrol vessels for West African clients and these will carry BR850 boats.
Ten and 12 metre variants of the Guardian are also available, but none have been built yet as Nautic is full up with other orders. Fisher said there was a lot of interest in the range, and expects further BR850 orders before year-end.
The Paramount Group last week announced it had acquired a majority stake in Nautic Africa, and once the Paramount marketing machine gets rolling, Fisher is confident of receiving many more orders – in fact, he is worried that the company won’t be able to cope and that it will need to expand it premises even more. He told defenceWeb that production capacity stands at R500 million a year, but Paramount could bring in orders worth billions.