SA Navy’s new hydrographic survey vessel delayed again

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The South African Navy (SA Navy) will have to wait a while longer to receive its much-anticipated new hydrographic survey vessel that is being acquired under Project Hotel due to another, unexplained, delay.

Signed in December 2017 with Durban-based Sandock Austral Shipyards (SA Shipyards, previously known as Southern African Shipyards), the project aimed to replace the aging SAS Protea, which has served for 52 years. However, unforeseen circumstances have caused numerous setbacks and delays.

The global Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupted global supply chains, while local social distancing measures hampered production efficiency. Unrest and looting in KwaZulu-Natal during 2021 and subsequent floods in 2022 further exacerbated delays, pushing the initial delivery date from September 2022 to January 2024.

As of May 2024, the construction of the hydrographic survey vessel, now named SAS Nelson Mandela (pennant number A187), is still nearing completion.

Armscor, the procurement agency, acknowledged the delay and told defenceWeb that the delivery date of the contract had to be reconsidered due to various challenges affecting the performance of the contract.

“Armscor and the contractor are in the process of amending the contract, which will determine the new delivery date,” Armscor confirmed.

Project Hotel encompasses more than just the main vessel. The programme also includes acquiring smaller survey motorboats, a sea boat and crucial upgrades to the SAN’s hydrographic office infrastructure.

In a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) in September last year, Armscor confirmed that overall project progress was at 75% completeness. The vessel itself was only 55% complete, with SA Shipyards in the pre-outfitting phase of the Outfitting Process, busy with compartment readiness in preparation for the commencement of the work to be executed by sub-contractors.

Work still to be performed included cable trays, foundations for equipment, ducting penetrations, large/small bore piping, pinning for the insulation and preparation for the installation of the shaft line.

Survey Motor Boat (SMB) 1 has been handed over and SMB2 and SMB3 are currently placed in preservation at the Naval Dockyard, ready to be delivered with the main vessel. Sea Acceptance Trials of the Sea Boat is also complete and been placed into preservation.

The upgrade to the shore-based South African National Hydrographic Office (SANHO) is 100% complete.

Total approved funding is R2.943 billion of which R2.210 billion has been paid to date. Armscor was still investigating ways to intervene further to enable ease of cash flow to enable milestones to be reached to activate invoicing.

SAS Nelson Mandela, based on Canadian/Norwegian company Vard Marine’s VARD 9 105 design, will be a significant leap forward in South Africa’s ability to map its seabed and surrounding waters. The 95-meter long vessel boasts a strengthened bow for operations in the Southern Ocean, a 10 000 nautical mile range and an 18-knot top speed. The South African version includes customized features like a helicopter hangar to enhance its operational versatility.

The vessel’s advanced survey equipment includes multi and single beam echo-sounders as well as side-scan sonar and a seabed sampler to recover material from the seafloor and underlying sub-strata for detailed analytical and testing purposes.

Previously, CEO of SA Shipyards, Prasheen Maharaj, said: “Eventually the Navy will get a great product. It is the largest, most complex survey vessel currently under construction in the world, so not only will they get a great product, but they will get the most modern product and it’s something Team South Africa can be very proud of.”

The SA Navy has yet to respond to a request for comment.