The SA Navy says the diesel-electric attack submarine SAS Queen Modjadji I did not suffer damage to its pressure hull when it hit the ocean floor on July 17 while conducting training exercises between Port Elizabeth and Durban.
In a statement the navy says the boat “suffered a minor collision to her forward section whilst on routine patrol along the East Coast. Whilst undergoing safety exercises, the HP Oil supply was briefly interrupted, resulting in a temporary loss of control. The boat collided with the ocean bottom but immediately surfaced again.”
The statement adds a hull survey was conducted by a team of navy divers once the submarine had returned to Durban “and the preliminary determination is that no mechanical failure lead to the collision. No further damage could be traced on pressure hull structure.”
The navy says the incident can be compared to a “fender bender” with damage to the exterior hull only. “The boat is technically sound and is able to continue with operational obligations.” After sailing to Simon’s Town under her own power, the boat was taken out of the water “to conduct further testing in order to determine the likely causes of the incident after which a formal report will be drafted.”
A “Board of Inquiry has already been instituted and the Navy authorities are waiting for its report before it could be disseminated to the public.”
The Sunday Times this weekend reported that all three submarines – meant to police the oceans – are presently undergoing repairs and maintenance. The SAS Manthatisi, the first of the country’s submarines acquired in a controversial multibillion-rand arms deal, has been in the dry dock since 2007 after a series of mishaps, including crashing into a quay and damaging her steering mechanism. Then a power cable was incorrectly plugged into her shore power-supply system, causing damage. The vessel’s propulsion batteries, which cost R35-million, are being replaced.
The SAS Charlotte Maxeke is also undergoing “routine maintenance”, according to navy chief director maritime strategy Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg.
Naval sources and SA defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman have observed that accidents and incidents involving submarines are not uncommon. The Canadian submarine HMCS Corner Brook was extensively damaged last year June off Vancouver in a similar grounding. Other recent accidents involving submarines include a fire aboard a Russian nuclear submarine in port at Murmansk in December and the HMS Astute, lead-ship of a new class of British nuclear attack submarines running aground off the Isle of Skye in October. She was undergoing sea trials at the time.