The South African Navy frigate SAS Amatola will pay diplomatic visits to Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Namibia this year while en route back to South Africa after commemorating the sinking of the SS Mendi in the United Kingdom and participating in Exercise Good Hope VII in Germany.
SAS Amatola is scheduled to depart Naval Base Simon’s Town on 16 January and conduct a border patrol of the South African West Coast under the auspices of Operation Corona when en route to the United Kingdom. She is expected to arrive in Rota, Spain, on 2 February to refuel. On 4 February the ship will sail to Plymouth, England, to arrive on 8 February. SAS Amatola will participate in British Operational Sea Training (BOST) whilst in England from 8 to 18 February and then proceed to Portsmouth to arrive on 19 February.
The Royal Navy describes BOST as “demanding but rewarding,” combining surveys of the physical condition of the ship with tests of the crew’s readiness for deployment, including a warfighting and damage control scenario. The objective is to ensure the ship is at the right level of operational capability to progress to multinational, task group training. This is not the first time Amatola has participated in the RN BOST work-up inspection, as she was the first South African ship to do so when she underwent the same rigorous exercise in 2007.
On 21 February the vessel will commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, which sank in the English Channel near the Isle of Wight, which is the main reason for the deployment. The troopship took 616 South Africans, all but nine black troops, and 33 crew down with her after being rammed in fog by the SS Darro.
The Mendi was pressed into military service in 1916 as a troopship. In January 1917 she left Cape Town with 823 men of the Fifth Battalion South African Native Labour Corps aboard to work as labourers on the Western Front, freeing troops for the front line.
After the collision, the SS Darro extracted herself from the SS Mendi and continued on her way, leaving the destroyer HMS Brisk to save 100 people but as the ship sank in just 20 minutes, few could be saved.
The Royal Navy said some of its divers are planning to go down to the Mendi’s wreck, which sits upright on the seabed in murky waters 100 feet down and 20 miles southwest of the southernmost tip of the Isle of Wight, placing the South African flag and wreath in memory of all 649 souls lost.
The South African Navy said the various activities to commemorate the sinking will take place between 19 and 24 February, including some relatives of soldiers that passed away going to sea with the Amatola to lay a wreath at the position of the sinking.
On completion of the commemoration, Amatola will proceed to Germany for Exercise Good Hope VII, which normally takes place every second year in South Africa. SAS Amatola will depart Portsmouth on 24 February to arrive in Kiel on 27 February. Exercise Good Hope will take place from 27 February to 5 March. On completion of the exercise the ship will do a historic visit to Rostock (previously part of East Germany) before sailing back to Rota in Spain to refuel between 19 and 21 March.
The South African National Defence Force said that from Spain the SAS Amatola will visit Tema, Ghana, between 30 March and 3 April; Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, between 6 and 8 April; Luanda, Angola, between 11 and 13 April; and Walvis Bay, Namibia, between 17 and 19 April. The ship is scheduled to be back in Simon’s Town on 22 April.