THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE ARMED FORCES - NAVY (MARITIME WING)...
The Sierra Leone Navy (SLN) was originally formed in 1981 as a wing of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). There were initially 03 Officers
who had gone through Naval Training and 40 Ratings drawn from various technical units of the Army to operate the only patrol boat - TRACKER MK II from England.
The offer of two Shangai Class II Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) in 1986 by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) brought about the recruitment of 14 officers and
125 ratings, trained initially at BTC now AFTC and later in various Naval institutions around the world to effectively and efficiently man existing vessels and
naval deployments along the coast.
When ECOMOG was formed in 1990 following the escalation of the Liberia civil war, the SLN participated actively in facilitating the movement of Sierra Leone Troops and Logistic to and from Liberia.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1991, also brought additional responsibilities of deploying troops to strategic areas around the country and the collection of vital logistic supplies from our sister country, Guinea. The intensification of the RUF rebel war saw the Navy being charged to defend the riverine areas around the country, which were of rebel interest. This caused the increase of SLN strength to 24 officers and 539 ratings and becoming an independent service in 1995, when the Defence Headquarters was established, and before the ECOMOG intervention of February 1998.
The SLN had four (04) offshore patrol vessels, five (05) inshore small crafts and several marine equipments. During the interregnum, these vessels and equipments were abandoned and later vandalized with the exception of Patrol Boat 103 - SLN ALMIMAMY RASSIN. Since the establishment of the Navy in the early 80s the Unit has not only been responsible for the protection of the coastline of Sierra Leone but also been engaged in the following supporting the operational activities:
Surveillance and Fisheries Protection
The MFMR mandated SLN to conduct surveillance and fisheries protection in the waters of Sierra Leone on its behalf. To this date, the Maritime Wing remains committed to this role and over 40 arrests of fishing vessels have been made for various infringements. These arrests yielded much needed revenue to government over the years. When the ADB programme was launched, it enabled a wider coverage, and an increase in revenue generated. In April 2002 and January 2003, Sierra Leone participated in the Sub regional Fisheries Surveillance operations joining the Gambia, Guinea, Senegal and Cape Verde, and continued to be part of the regional surveillance to date. The Maritime Wing has been very instrumental in the gains made by this organisation.
Naval Support to the Infantry During the rebel war it was the Navy that prevented the occupation of Bonthe Island by RUF rebels and also actively participated in blocking the advancement of rebels on Bonga Town, Tissana, Tombo and other Peninsula Villages during the infamous January 6th 1999 invasion. The Navy was very supportive and in composite with the infantry on operations Barass, extending GoSL influence in Kambia, deployment into the Pujehun District Tompari Ferry etc.
Smuggling is one of the main sources by which government loses revenue. Since the formation from August 2001 to May 2002 ten boats were arrested by the Navy for smuggling and gave the Government Millions of Leones which should have been lost. Together with the SLP Maritime Division, more arrests have been made in the recent past and efforts are being made to increase our presence at sea.
Piracy has for long time threatened to wreck the fishing industry in Sierra Leone. Many foreign fishing vessels have left this country even before their fishing licenses expired due to armed attacks which resulted in these vessels losing thousands of dollars worth of fish and equipments. The piracy plague appears to be uncontrolled, and at one time a naval RIB was damage by pirates during a shoot-out. However, on the 13th and 14th December 2002, a planned joint operation conducted by the Maritime Wing succeeded in arresting two sets of pirates on the northern axis of Sierra Leone. These operations seem to have sent a strong signal to the pirates. Since 14th December 2002, there has not been a single report of armed robbery in the territorial waters of Sierra Leone.
Humanitarian Support Exercise
The SLN has also played an active role in the Humanitarian relief services in Sierra Leone. Since the outbreak of the rebel war in 1991, thousands of Sierra Leoneans have been repatriated by the SLN from Liberia and Guinea both by Government and UNHCR requests.
Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue is a routine evolution in the SLN. To date, over 400 lives have been saved. A higher point in these rescue operations was the saving of 107 people on board MV VAKAPAD which sank north of Cape Sierra Leone in September 2002. The Navy was also first on site at the UN Helicopter crash in November 2001. Although no lives were saved, the Maritime Wing succeeded in retrieving two corpses and assisted salvaging the craft. It’s a miracle to many as to how the Maritime Wing could achieve so much with its present strength and equipment holdings under such enormous challenges. The secret lies in the fact that the Maritime Wing as a small unit is full of professionals of the various naval departments who are dedicated in performing their service to the state. The unit as it is stated earlier has been performing the role of the Navy as a service. There is no doubt that if the necessary platforms are acquired for the Maritime Wing, it will surely rise to its former status of a navy, one of the principal services of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.