Lady R ‘executive summary’ report raises more questions than answers
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the full findings of the report would remain classified to protect national security interests.
Russian ship Lady R docked at Simon’s Town Naval Base on 9 December 2022. Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Limewrite
The release of the “executive summary” of the findings of an investigative panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa into the controversial docking of Russian ship Lady R in Simon’s Town Naval Base in 2022 has raised more questions than answers.
A statement by the Presidency on Tuesday made it clear that the investigation into Lady R is closed.
“Due to the classified nature of the evidence that informed the report, the government will not publicly engage further on the substance of the report,” it said.
The four-page “executive summary” of the findings of the investigative panel into the docking is vague and provides scant insight into details surrounding the investigation.
The watered down summary of the report reveals the panel established that the goods that were delivered by the Lady R in Simon’s Town were equipment for the SANDF, which it had requested, had been ordered by Armscor from a company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Ordered in 2018
The manufacturing, packaging and delivery of the equipment which was ordered in 2018 was delayed among others, by the outbreaks of Covid and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“Although the Lady R was under US sanctions (which was only discovered by Armscor and AB Logistics in mid-October 2022 when the ship was already on its way), those sanctions had not been endorsed by the United Nations and were therefore not binding on South Africa,” the report read.
It also found that the shipping agents at Ngqura/Port Elizabeth, where the ship was at first intended to dock, were unwilling and refused to service the ship as a result of the sanctions.
“This only became apparent as the ship was already approaching South African waters. In order to rescue the situation, the SANDF, in collaboration with Armscor and the supplier decided and directed the ship to dock at Simon’s Town, where the goods/equipment were offloaded,” it said.
There is also questions surrounding paragraph 12 of the report.
“As part of the standard practice in relation to this kind of equipment (specifically in relation to its intended use), the goods were offloaded at night, under cover of darkness. This was during the nights of 7-8 and 8-9 December 2022,” the report read.
Panel aware of intended use
The report also said the details of the equipment offloaded and its intended use were made known to the panel.
“In light of this classified information, the panel accepted the reasons provided for the decision to offload the equipment at night. This as well as the nature and purpose of the equipment are aspects which may need to be considered when the president decides what may be published.”
The report said despite some rumours by locals that some equipment or arms were loaded on the Lady R, the panel found no evidence to substantiate those claims.
“Available evidence only confirmed the offloading and that there was nothing loaded.”
The panel found that the equipment had not been properly containerised and it was packed in pallets which may have piqued the interest of the locals.
“As a result, containers were brought to the port, empty, by trucks, and the pallets were loaded into the containers on the dock, after which the containers were then loaded on the trucks. On the early morning of 8 December 2022, there were pallets that remained on the quay, with insufficient time to containerise them before dawn broke.
These pallets were returned to the ship, awaiting nightfall on 8 December 2022 to be offloaded again and loaded into containers. This was done because leaving the pallets on the quay/dockside during daylight was a security risk; furthermore, the nature of the equipment would be visible to anyone with sight of the dock.
Mystery of transponder switched off
The report also revealed the mystery of why the Lady R switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder was “as a result of the urgent circumstances in which the docking at Simon’s Town was procured, and the tracking of the vessel by foreign intelligence agencies”.
“The vessel and those who assisted it contravened a number of provisions that relate to commercial vessels docking at South African ports, including SARS designation of a port of entry. The panel made recommendations in relation to the future management of foreign vessels’ docking at South African ports”
Full report classified
The report showed the panel was chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Phineas Mojapelo, with the two additional members being Advocate Leah Gcabashe and former deputy minister of Basic Education Enver Surty.
However, no terms of reference were specified on the report, but it states that the panel interviewed 47 people under oath and received 23 written submissions.
“A number of other entities and persons that had publicly claimed to have information on this matter, after being invited to make submissions to the panel, either failed to do so or provided no independent knowledge of the relevant facts,” it read.
In a televised briefing on Monday night, Ramaphosa said the full findings of the report would remain classified to protect national security interests.
“In deciding not to release the report, I have taken account of the laws that both mandate openness and transparency and require that certain information that may be prejudicial to the defence and security of the Republic be kept classified and confidential,” Ramaphosa said.
The president added that revealing the details of the report could compromise national security and endanger the lives of South African soldiers deployed in various operations across the African continent.