Thursday, March 03, 2005
Safety concerns and a lack of fully trained, representative submarine crew could mean the navy's first new submarine will be brought to South Africa by ship. A final decision about the matter will be made soon. Senior navy staff believe it will be a professional shame and acknowledgement that the navy is struggling to train enough affirmative-action staff to eventually supply the three new submarines with crews. This will also be one of the first important decisions for the new navy chief, Vice-Admiral Johannes Modimo, who took over from Vice-Admiral Johan Retief in Pretoria this week. A policy of three black submarine crew to each white one was followed in the past two years, with crew being trained in Germany. A total of 90 crew is needed for the three submarines. Although the crew of the first submarine, known only as S101 so far, are in the process of qualifying, a substantial number are not experienced, particularly in international waters. The S101's sea tests are to start shortly, after which the crew have to undergo their sea-skills tests on the vessel. The route the submarines would normally go would be across the English Channel, where there are almost always up to 100 vessels. The options would be to either sail on the surface or stay completely submerged and out of the way of the other vessels. The navy withdrew its last Daphne submarine from service last year. In the years leading up to its withdrawal, the training of submarine crew was downscaled. The largest component of the navy's submariners now comprises those who qualified on the old-generation submarines. There's also a young group, who are undergoing training for the first time. Compared to the corvettes, which came to South Africa only as basic platforms to be equipped here, the submarines are fully equipped, and this makes them even more sophisticated to operate. The navy cited an accident last year, in which a fire broke out on a British submarine headed for Canada on its maiden voyage, as one of the reasons why it cannot be too cautious. A couple of the crew were killed during last year's accident. Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a military expert, said on Tuesday that a submarine on a freighter would be an embarrassment. But, it would also be unwise to put a "representative" crew before professionalism and safety on the S101's maiden voyage, he said. He said most of the crew should be carefully selected for this voyage; once the submarine had arrived safely, the affirmative training could be continued locally.
South Africa's first, new submarine which was recently launched in Germany.