SAS Amatola crew shames SANDF, 21Bn impresses


If a report in the Afrikaans daily, Beeld, can be believed – and there is no reason not to – some among the ship’s company of the Valour-class frigate SAS Amatola have managed to bring shame on their ship, the Navy and the SANDF.

The paper reported last week crewmembers have been badly misbehaving while on shore leave in the northern Mozambican port town of Pemba. The ship has been deployed in the Mozambican Channel as part of Operation Copper (not Hopper as previously reported) since roughly late May/early April – a more accurate date being unavailable as the military has been playing coy on the anti-piracy patrol for reasons that remain unfathomable.

The South Africans have established a temporary shore facility at Pemba and also use the town for shore leave, apparently some four days after every 10 day patrol. South African holiday-makers in the town have reported rowdy behaviour and constant bar fights. The Beeld added that at least one bar have banned the sailors for damaging everything from furniture to toilet bowls. The paper added the Department of Defence had “taken note” of the reports but did not say what was being done.

In the United States Navy, the ship’s captain and Master-at-Arms would certainly have been relieved of command in similar circumstances. Indeed that’s precisely what happened to the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS destroyer USS Stout and his top enlisted sailor after incidents of inappropriate behaviour at Mediterranean ports of call earlier this year. The US defence journal Stars & Stripes reported in March Vice Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of the US 6th Fleet removed Cmdr. Nathan Borchers due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command, and relieved the ship’s command master chief, Master Chief Susan Bruce-Ross, due to loss of confidence in her ability to effectively lead and serve. The disgrace also ended their careers in the US Navy.

The Amatola crew’s behaviour stands in contrast to the conduct of the sailors aboard SAS Mendi when it deployed to Pemba for three months earlier this year when no incidents were reported. Their behaviour also compares poorly with that of troops from the formerly troubled 21 South African Infantry Battalion based at Lenz and Doornkop in southern Johannesburg. Some of the unit’s troops gained the battalion a modicum of infamy when running riot outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria in August 2009. A company of this battalion is now approaching the end of a three-month stint in the Kruger National Park, arguably South Africa’s top tourist draw-card.

Brigadier General “Koos” Liebenberg, director conventional operations at the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF last week said there had been no disciplinary problems with the troops since deploying into what is arguably South Africa’s prime tourist attraction. A fillip indeed.