A SA Navy first as submariners practice escape drill


The South African Navy (SAN) achieved a first on Wednesday when six crew members of a submerged submarine performed a successful underwater escape from a depth of 20 metres.Included in this group were the Operations Officer and Coxswain of the submarine used for the exercise, the SAS Charlotte Maxeke. 

Submarine safety is a major focus for the SA Navy and its submarine community and Wednesday’s exercise was the result of the SAN hosting the NATO Submarine Emergency Rescue Workgroup (SMER) conference in Cape Town in May.

Planning commenced in June for an exercise developed around the most likely scenario to be encountered by a SAN submarine. This scenario would be a submarine with a ruptured ballast tank, but with the pressure hull still intact in shallow water, unable to come to the surface. 

The six escapees were specially chosen for the trial and they received advanced training in order to ensure their safety, in what was termed as a first-of-class trial.  

The procedure was tested ashore and the drill was integrated into the submarine during an alongside training phase in the first week of October.

The procedure involves a crewmember entering the sail (conning tower) of the submarine, which was then flooded.

The outer hatch is then opened, allowing the crew to exit the submarine, close the hatch and reach the surface with the aid of a portable breathing canister.

The sail is then drained of water, allowing the next crewmember to enter the compartment. 

The SAS Charlotte Maxeke proceeded to sea on Monday to test the procedure without escapees.  

On Tuesday the submarine was bottomed in the outer basin of the Simon’s Town naval base and in very controlled conditions the drill was practiced from the “stricken submarine”.

The trial was successful and the six escapees managed to escape from the submarine. 

On Wednesday the boat bottomed in Simon’s Bay in 20m of water and the whole procedure was successfully tested.

Pic: A SA Navy Type 209 submarine.