Forward movement for SAN submarine museum

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Slow and steady wins the race is the mantra of those working to create a permanent home for the last remaining Daphne submersible in a dedicated submarine museum aptly located in Simon’s Town.

During the 1970s, ‘80s and early part of the ‘90s, the French-built underwater craft were integral to SA Navy (SAN) operations and with decommissioning of the final Daphne – SAS Assegaai (S99), commissioned as SAS Johanna van der Merwe – was earmarked for the SA Naval Museum as the major component of a submarine technology display.

The submarine was operated as a museum by the Naval Heritage Trust (NHT), utilising volunteers as guides, as an alongside museum while still in the water from 2011 to 2015 according to the museum. She required docking in 2015 for extensive maintenance work and took up working space in the Naval Dockyard waiting funding for maintenance.

As with much else in the wider South African defence portfolio, funding proved the problem until the voluntary arrival of the Naval Heritage Trust of SA. The Trust, authorised by SAN management, will preserve the submarine on a convenient site and operate her as a permanent exhibit of the museum.

Assegaai has been formally signed over to the NHT to preserve and operate as a museum of technology. A suitable site as well as buildings and facilities with public access is available and will form an annex to the museum. The site is adjacent to the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) base at Cole Point.

Phase one of the project started last November with site clearing, readying the submarine for moving and construction of foundation mounts. It is hoped to move Assegaai to her final mooring early this year.

Legalities are covered in a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the Naval Museum and the NHT. It confirms the trust will fund, preserve, move, prepare and permanently operate Assegaai as a museum on behalf of the SAN.

In its project proposal, the NHT lists five aims, including “preserving the SAN’s rich submarine heritage”. Others note the submarine museum will enhance the image of the SAN as a “peoples’ navy” – open and transparent as well as illustrating “innovative, world leading South African technologies applied aboard”.

An indication of how well Assegaai functioned as a museum while alongside comes from the fact that over fifty-six thousand plus visitors from 110 countries visited the submarine over four and a half years. Taking into account security restrictions – she was alongside in a working naval harbour – this achievement becomes more noteworthy.

The NHT team sees just short of R5 million needed to move Assegaai and make her “presentable” with the most critical items being site and submarine preparation and the actual lifting and moving of the underwater craft.

A number of sponsorship options are available. They and other information about the submarine is at https://navalheritagetrust.co.za/sas-assegaai/.