The South African Navy’s 41-year old hydrographic survey ship SAS Protea is still in pristine condition and can be kept seaworthy for a good number of years, according to the Navy, until eventually replaced under Project Hotel.
SAS Protea, is the only “white ship” in the fleet denoting it is not armed and thus not a warship. It is the sole representative of the Hecla Class in the fleet and was launched on July 14, 1971. Commissioning of the 2 733 ton ship, with pennant number A324, took place on May 23 the following year.
While a 41-year-old ship might seem inadequate for the tasks assigned – SAS Protea currently spends around 180 days a year at sea – hydrographic service commander Captain (SAN) Abri Kampfer said she was still in “pristine condition”.
This is due to good life cycle management and what the hydrographer, who has also done a stint as captain of the SAS Protea, sees will keep her seaworthy for a good number of years. He stressed this will, however, be dependent on “the ready availability of certain spares”.
Kampfer sees the addition of new survey equipment, including the shallow water route survey system (SWRSS), and a complete revamp of all three survey launches, as further factors that will keep the Navy’s name in the forefront of international hydrographic work in years to come.
In southern Africa, Mozambique has a limited hydrographic capacity while Namibia’s coastline was surveyed by South Africa. As South Africa is the prominent power in the region it is expected to maintain its position as the leading hydrographic service for southern Africa.
The South African Navy has a requirement to replace SAS Protea under Project Hotel. It is possible the new ship could be built in South Africa or include local subcontractors to the preferred prime contractor. A number of local companies are interested in Hotel, ranging from Southern African Shipyards to Veecraft Marine (which would partner with German firm Abeking & Rasmussen).
With a crew of 124, including 10 officers, the SAS Protea has a range of 12 000 miles at a speed of 11 knots. She is equipped for hydrographic survey with facilities for the collection of oceanographic data for which she is fitted with special communications equipment. She also carries a Polaris survey system and survey launches. Her hull has been strengthened for navigation in ice. She is also fitted with a passive roll stabilisation system. New engines were installed during a major refit in 1995/96. SAS Protea carries EGNG sidescan sonar and two survey boats.
Alouette helicopters were able to operate off of the SAS Protea, but as the Allouette III has been phased out of service, the vessel’s helicopter capability cannot be maintained any more and is one more reason a replacement is needed.
While she is a specialist hydrographic survey vessel, the equipment aboard SAS Protea has also been employed in search and rescue operations. The most recent of these was in February 2011 when she steamed to the sea off Plettenberg Bay following the crash of a company-owned Pilatus PC-12.
Protea’s shallow water route survey system (SWRSS), fitted prior to the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup tournament, to ensure underwater safety in the Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth harbours, was used to search for and view items on the seabed in the vicinity of the ill-fated aircraft.
The South African Navy’s first foray into hydrographic surveying started in 1922 when all surveys were supplied to the UK Hydrographic Office. This state of affairs continued until April 1, 1955 when the SA Navy Hydrographic office was established in Cape Town. This followed a Ministerial request to the maritime arm of what is now the SA National Defence Force for provision of a hydrographic service.
South Africa’s hydrographic services are held in high regard – for instance, Kampfer has been awarded the Alexander Dalrymple Award for services to hydrography in 2009.
A statement issued by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office to mark the honour noted that, “Kampfer is a respected figure in the International Hydrographic Organisation, has worked tirelessly to represent his region and to develop its hydrographic and cartographic expertise and capabilities. At the same time he chaired the major task group relating to the worldwide electronic navigational database that is central to the delivery of electronic navigational charts.
“The award is a symbol of recognition for outstanding dedication and contribution to world hydrography and as such is an extremely prestigious award in this sector. It takes its name from Alexander Dalrymple who established the UK Hydrographic Office in 1795 and is regarded as a leading figure in the history of the development of hydrography.”
Paying tribute to Kampfer UK National Hydrographer, Rear Admiral Ian Moncrieff said: “Despite difficulties in retaining a small qualified staff of just 24 people, the South African Office is a mature centre of expertise in the region. Abri has worked painstakingly, often in isolation, to represent the region and develop its capabilities”.