Board of inquiry for SAN submarine disaster coming

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The South African Navy will next month institute a board of inquiry (BOI) into the SAS Manthatisi accident that claimed the lives of three submariners.

SA Navy spokesperson Ruwayda Grootboom said the inquiry is set to start on 11 October and be completed by 10 November.

“The outcome of the board of inquiry will be shared within the prescripts of the law and in line with South African National Defence Force (SANDF) policies and procedures,” Grootboom said.

Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (executive officer, 33), Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (48), and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela (43) died after the Manthatisi was hit by a rogue wave during a training exercise last Wednesday while off the coast of Kommetjie.

The SANDF said a memorial for the fallen sailors will take place on Wednesday 27 September at the Wynberg Military Indoor Sport Centre at 10:00. Members of the public are invited to attend the memorial service.

The SANDF has requested the tragedy be treated “with the sensitivity it deserves and to respect the privacy of the bereaved families. Allow the souls of the sailors to rest peacefully at this stage.”

“Furthermore, the SANDF condemns all unfounded speculations regarding the circumstances that gave rise to the incident. Such speculations only add injury to already open wounds.”

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier told Newzroom Afrika that the BOI should have a broad scope and mandate and should look not just at the events on the day in question but also to what extent is underfunding affecting the South African National Defence Force and what pressure do personnel have to carry out exercises given limited opportunities.

Another question that he hopes will be answered is on the impact of reduced hours for the SA Navy and Air Force, and limited asset availability.

He said that accidents do happen to the best-funded, most well-trained militaries, but “that doesn’t mean we should tolerate things going wrong, hence the board of inquiry.”

He reiterated that the crew who lost their lives were well trained, but said “the SANDF is operating on a very, very low budget, much lower than they should be, which means they’re not getting the required training to remain as sharp as they should be.”