Maritime cadets set sights on Antarctica


Forty South African sea cadets have set sail for Europe aboard the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (SAMSA’s) SA Agulhas training vessel, with the ultimate objective of going to Antarctica, where a team will attempt to cross the continent on foot for the first time.

The cadet training ship SA Agulhas left Cape Town harbour on Friday 2 November, setting sail for the United Kingdom. According to the Weekend Argus, the vessel will stop in Namibia, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire to pick up further batches of at least 10 sea cadets. It will then dock at Canary Wharf in London to pick up scientists and supplies before returning to Cape Town on December 6. It will then set sail for Antarctica in January 2013 to drop off the scientists in preparation for the first-ever winter crossing of the icy continent on foot.

The Coldest Journey team will set out to reach the Ross Sea on March 21, 2013. The Antarctic expedition will see veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and five others cross around 4 000 km of Antarctic territory over six months. Their route will cover the Russian base of Novolazareskaya to Captain Scott’s base at McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole.

Fiennes said it would be his greatest challenge to date. The expedition will venture further on foot into Antarctica than any previous expedition and will not be able to be rescued if something goes wrong, due to the darkness and cold temperatures.

The cadets sailing to Antarctica are maritime studies graduates of the Durban and Cape Town Universities of Technology. Sea cadets are required to obtain a minimum of a year’s training at sea in order to be promoted and the training forms part of the SAMSA maritime skills development programme. The Weekend Argus quoted SAMSA CEO Tsietsi Mokhele as saying that the goal was to increase the number of qualified officers from 120 a year to between 1 200 and 1 600 a year.

The SA Agulhas was previously operated by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) for Antarctic research and supply duties before being transferred to the South African Maritime Safety Authority for training purposes earlier this year. She sailed on her first voyage as a dedicated training vessel in July.

Although the SA Agulhas is being used primarily for training, she will also be used for environmental research in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). These funded studies would contribute to covering the R56-million-a-year running costs of the vessel (excluding cadet training costs), reports Engineering News. Mokhele said the charter business model would allow SAMSA to meet all the financial needs of the training vessel.

Several modifications were made to the SA Agulhas for her new training role, including the addition of radar and navigation technology as well as expanded workshop facilities.

During three decades of service, SA Agulhas travelled about 1.5 million kilometres and made a total of 158 voyages. Her replacement, the SA Agulhas II, arrived in Cape Town on May 3, after a month-long journey from the STX Finland Rauma Shipyard. The new vessel took over from the 34 year-old SA Agulhas in supporting and undertaking research in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough islands.