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Amatola to be repaired by March

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has confirmed the replacement of the port diesel engine of the SAS Amatola will cost R16 million. Answering a parliamentary question by Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald, she added the work would be complete by next March.

South African Navy Chief Director Maritime Strategy Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg last November briefed the National Assembly's Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans that rough seas had irreparably damaged the engine. He at the time also put the cost of the repair at R16 million.

Teuteberg said the “starboard propulsion unit on one of the frigates is broken. An investigation subsequently discovered a shortcoming on an underwater exhaust valve, the South African Press Association reported. But Sisulu in her answer – drafted by Teuteberg – states it was the port diesel. The cause of the damage was “ingress of water through the exhaust system and due to sensor failure. This was caused by normal wear and tear.”

The admiral last year amplified that the Navy believed “this to be a design shortcoming, but particular to the sea states we operate in. It happened when the vessel was rolling excessively and therefore the pressure changed as the exhaust went down. And there was water ingress... to the engine, [which] damaged the crankshaft of this engine," he said.

The discovery of the faulty valve had led to an investigation of the Navy's three other frigates. "An... engineering change was done in order to improve the closing of the valves under extreme conditions," Teuteberg said. The ships are fitted with a CODAG-WARP (COmbined Diesel And Gas turbine-WAter jet and Refined Propellers) propulsion system consisting of a General Electric LM 2500 gas turbine delivering 20,000kw (26,820 hp) and two MTU 16-valve 1163 TB93 diesels, each delivering 5920kW or a combined 11.84mW (16,102 hp). These, in a variety of combinations via a Renk combined gearbox, power two shafts, each fitted with a LIPS controllable pitch 5-blade 3.4m diameter propeller, or a centreline LIPS LJ210E waterjet (6-blade impeller, 2.8m diameter) with a max forward thrust of 1650kN and a crash-stop facility of 3300kN.

Earlier, he told members South Africa had got "the best value for money ever" when it bought the frigates from Germany, SAPA reported. "They are brilliant. At sea they are capable, they've got long legs, they've got speed when you require them, the sensors work beautifully... I tell you, perfect ships for our type of coast." Teuteberg said the repair would involve cutting open the vessel's hull. The frigate was currently operational, propelled by its starboard engine and gas turbine-driven water jet, but is confined to coastal waters. "We would not send her beyond that," Teuteberg said.

But they have. The Amatola has just returned from a three-month counter-piracy patrol in the Mozambique Channel as part of the secretive Operation Copper.

The class was acquired for R9.6 billion as part of Project Sitron,a component of the controversial Strategic Defence Package signed on December 3, 1999. The contracts became effective on April 28, 2000. The Amatola arrived in South African waters in November 2004, the Isandhlwana in February 2005, the Spioenkop in May and the Mendi in September 2005.

Meanwhile, it is still not clear when the engine incident happened. The parliamentary answer also noted that the starboard diesel had suffered damage and “became inoperational”. The defective component was replaced at a cost of R3185.00. The answer did not say when and for how long that engine was inoperable – or when it was repaired.

The answer also added another frigate has experienced engine problems, but gave no details. It has been reported this was the SAS Mendi, which then also completed a three month Op Copper deployment with just one diesel and the gas turbine.


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