The minister of defence has revealed that the hull of the South African Navy’s submarine SAS Queen Modjaji received a 1.5 by 1.5 metre dent when it hit the seabed during a training accident on July 17. However, the submarine is back in the water after repairs and is preparing to participate in exercise Atlasur IX later this month.
In response to a parliamentary question posed by Pieter Groenewald, the opposition party Freedom Front Plus chief spokesperson for defence, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stated that a board of inquiry has been convened by the South African navy to determine the cause of the incident. “The outcome of the report of [the Board of Inquiry] BOI will provide the recommendation about the responsibility and accountability of the members of the crew involved,” the minister stated.
The reply to Groenewald’s question stated that SAS Queen Modjadji 1 made unplanned contact with the sea-bottom (mud and sand) on July 17 during routine “diving safety drill” and “hydraulic oil pressure failure” exercises.
A technical investigation has shown that SAS Queen Modjadji 1 suffered an indentation approximately 1.5 m by 1.5 m to the outer protective plating (7.8 mm) of the bow, protecting the main ballast tank no: 5.
Groenewald said he wanted to see disciplinary action over the incident. “The reply of the Minister confirms my allegations that there had been negligence and poor training,” Groenewald said. “The exercise was carried out precisely to imitate such a situation where the hydraulic pressure in the submarine should be stopped. Such exercises have strict security measures that have to be followed and it is clear that these measures were not implemented. The outcome of the Board of Inquiry is being awaited and disciplinary steps should be taken.”
The South African Navy said the diesel-electric attack submarine did not suffer any damage to its pressure hull in the incident. A hull survey was conducted by a team of navy divers once the submarine had returned to Durban, which determined that no mechanical failure lead to the collision.
The navy said the incident can be compared to a “fender bender” with damage to the exterior hull only. “The boat is technically sound and is able to continue with operational obligations,” the navy said. After sailing to Simon’s Town under her own power, the boat was taken out of the water for inspection and repair, which involved the replacement of a small section of the submarine’s outer shield.
Queen Modjadji 1 is now back in the water and is preparing to participate in the international naval exercises Atlasur IX and Ibsamar (India-Brazil-South Africa Maritime exercise). The boat is fully operational, The New Age newspaper has reported.
Ibsamar is a biennial exercise involving IBSA partners South Afrcia, India and Brazil. Atlasur is also is a two-yearly, joint and combined maritime exercise between the navies of South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The first such exercise was held in Argentinean waters in 1993 and laid the foundation for a combined maritime doctrine between the nations. Atlasur will be conducted in False Bay, Hermanus, Simon’s Town and Hout Bay over the period September 24 to October 10, 2012.
Naval sources and South African defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman have observed that accidents and incidents involving submarines are not uncommon. The Canadian submarine HMCS Corner Brook was extensively damaged last year June off Vancouver in a similar grounding. Other recent accidents involving submarines include a fire aboard a Russian nuclear submarine in port at Murmansk in December and the HMS Astute, lead-ship of a new class of British nuclear attack submarines running aground off the Isle of Skye in October. She was undergoing sea trials at the time.