HMS Sceptre visits Simon’s Town


British Swiftsure-class nuclear fleet (attack) submarine HMS Sceptre (S104) arrived in Simon’s Town yesterday for a 11-day visit after its visit was approved by  the South African National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) approved the visit, despite apparent opposition from some environmental groups.

Visits by nuclear-powered vessels are no longer uncommon. The Sceptre’s visit follows that by US Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Juan (SSN 751) in November last year. The Russian battlecruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) docked in Cape Town for a few days in January last year while the the US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Cape Town in October 2008.

The NNR says it is satisfied that the application received complies “with all aspects of the regulatory requirements in terms of the section 21 of the National Nuclear Regulator Act. Furthermore, the NNR wishes to reassure all stakeholders concerned that it will conduct environmental sampling before the arrival of the vessel, during berth in the harbour, and after the vessel has left. We do this to ensure that there are no adverse radiological impacts to the Simon’s Town environment due to the HMS Sceptre’s visit.”

The Sceptre was built by Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness, Scotland and was commissioned on February 14 1978. The wikipedia notes she was the tenth nuclear fleet submarine to enter service with the Royal Navy. At present she is currently the oldest commissioned vessel in the Royal Navy still in active service and is to be decommissioned in December. She will be replaced by HMS Astute, the BAE Systems-built lead Astute class submarine.

The online Digital Journal reports the boat was initially expected to be in Simon’s Town from March 18. She will ow depart port April 16. The SA Navy told the Digital Journal in an earlier interview that the Sceptre had been delayed by “operational requirements” but did not elaborate. But British newspapers claim the submarine had been patrolling off the Falkland Islands near South America because of renewed tensions between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

The UK’s Mail Online said the row erupted when a British oil-rig, the Ocean Guardian, which had been towed from Scotland, was reported to have found oil off the islands. The Mail said the HMS Sceptre was sent to “boost security” in the area and counter any possible sea borne threat from Argentina. British authorities did not comment on the whereabouts of the Sceptre. The row has died down since reports came in that the oil was low-grade.