Three SADC special forces members drown during Namibian exercise


Two South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel were among three special forces operators who drowned during a multinational military exercise off the Namibian coast over the weekend.

The three were part of a team of 32 special forces soldiers who were taking part in the special forces exercise Welwitschia off the coast of Sandwich Harbour near Walvis Bay. According to The Namibian, four boats were conducting an exercise at between 3:00 and 4:00 on Sunday morning when two of them capsized in rough seas.

Apart from the three casualties, the rest of the 16 men who were affected managed to swim safely ashore or were rescued by Angolan boats.
“It appears that the sea was rough and the wind was strong as well, which resulted in two of the boats capsizing. Others managed to swim to shore. Only the three did not make it to shore,” Deputy Commissioner Ottilie Kashuupulwa, Erongo region Nampol Crime Investigations Coordinator told the New Era.

In a statement, the SANDF said the boats were headed for a beach landing exercise when one Barracuda boat executed a power turn and was flooded by a large wave and capsized. Another Barracuda boat went to the rescue and members on the distressed boat scrambled to the one side of the rescuing boat causing it to tilt and capsize as well.

The body of the Malawian Defence Force soldier washed ashore while search and rescue efforts continue for the two SANDF members who remain unaccounted for. The identities of the deceased or their ranks have not been released. However, the Namibian Ministry of Defence has said it will issue a statement detailing the circumstances around the accident and its casualties in due course.

Two soldiers were taken to hospital after the incident. The two boats were washed out 10 miles away and were recovered.

Exercise Welwitschia is a multinational exercise involving more than 700 personnel from several Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and host Namibia.

The desert warfare exercise began on September 4 and is expected to end on October 10, with the main portion of the exercise taking place at Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay between September 30 and October 7.

The exercise involved practicing the tactics, techniques and procedures of desert warfare and improving the readiness and interoperability of SADC special forces, the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) said. It also gave special forces the chance to coordinate anti-piracy operations.

South African Army Colonel Renier Coetzee earlier this year said that special forces teams are able to provide the SADC Standby Force with unique capabilities, as they utilise “unconventional actions to resolve strategic problems.” Special forces offer a wide variety of capabilities such as reconnaissance, intelligence, offensive action, the protection of vital and strategic interests, the combating of terrorism, combat search and rescue and military capacity development.
“SADC special forces have proven themselves combat ready for deployment during the past four years,” Coetzee said, referring to annual exercises, the most recent of which was held in Lesotho last year. “SADC special forces are ready to take part in the SADC Standby Brigade.”

Each SADC member country has a special forces field of expertise awarded to it. “We have lots of experience we can offer to the SADC,” Coetzee said, as the special forces have done maritime operations, counter-insurgency training and next year will conduct anti-piracy training.