Navy heroes who died attempting to save lives in Durban to be recognised


The three SA Navy members who died attempting to rescue workers from a gas-filled pit at Naval Base Durban last month will be recognised and honoured posthumously SA Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, said.

Speaking at fleet headquarters in Simon’s town he said Leading Seaman Amrithlall Tothara Ramdin, Able Seaman Francois William Mundell and Seaman Henro Ter Borg had again shown there was no greater sacrifice than to give one’s life for one’s country or fellow countrymen.

The three dead sailors would be acknowledged posthumously with medals for their bravery and the process was already underway. Deon Fourie, Professor of Strategic Studies at Unisa and an authority on South African medals and decorations said the three would in all probability be honoured with the Order of Mendi for Bravery.
“While it is a national order it is very much an order to do with bravery and saving lives which is what the sailors lost their own lives doing.
“The issuing of decorations and honours is not a rushed process anywhere and South Africa is no different,” he said.
“It would involve three nominations to be written by someone in Navy HQ, presumably for the Order of Mendi. These would then be vetted and signed by the responsible officer or officer under who the sailors served and then vetted by the SA Navy honours board followed by Chief Navy. If I’m correct in my suggestion of the Order of Mendi, the recommendations would be signed by SANDF Chief and perhaps the Minister, who might serve as a link to the Presidency. The next step is for recommendations to be passed for vetting by the President’s Orders Advisory Council and finally the awards would be made to, in this instance, the next of kin at the President’s routine investiture.”

The exception would be if CNavy “persuades” the president to make the awards at a SA Navy parade or investiture Fourie added with the rider that he would not hazard a timeframe.

The Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Solly Shoke, has already committed to looking after the dependants of the three sailors and bursaries would be awarded to their children via the SANDF Education Trust.

Ramdin, Mundell and Ter Borg died when they went to assist Department of Public Works employees working on a sewage valve at the naval base. Gas fumes leaked out and affected their breathing, overwhelming them. A contractor ran for assistance and approached the passing Maritime Reaction Squadron bus.

The three navy members immediately responded and descended into the pit, with a contractor from Riordor. Unfortunately, all four succumbed to the high levels of fumes in the pit and died. As more assistance arrived, rescuers descended using Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus recovered six bodies to surface.

Twenty-four other people who assisted with recovery of the bodies were taken to hospital where they were treated for shortness of breath.

Hlongwane was out of the country attending the SS Mendi centenary in the English Channel when the accident happened but indicated he will visit the families.
“While no word or deed can ever compensate the bereaved families for their loss or serve as recompense for their sacrifice, we are able to at the very least recognise and reward their bravery and courage; albeit posthumously.”