Navy probing submarine accident


A SA Navy board of inquiry is investigating an incident last month that saw the diesel-electric attack submarine SAS Queen Modjadji I hit the ocean floor while conducting training exercises between Port Elizabeth and Durban. Part of the bow section of the outer hull was damaged.

The Sunday Times photographed the German-built Type 209 1400MOD submarine undergoing repairs in Simon’s Town this week. The paper yesterday said the SA Navy Saturday acknowledged she had been damaged during a “training exercise”. “This means that all three submarines – meant to police the oceans – are presently undergoing repairs and maintenance,” the Sunday Times said.

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. “We did a proper technical investigation and now we have convened a board of inquiry to look at all the procedures to see whether there is something we can learn from this. As soon as that is completed, we will adapt our procedures of conducting this specific set of safety drills.” The accident reportedly took place during a safety drill involving the boat’s hydraulic system. She surfaced after impact and continued sailing to Durban, where she was checked by a team of divers and afterwards returned to Cape Town, the Sunday Times said.

The admiral downplayed the latest incident, and insisted the submarine could be back in the water “within days”. However, he said repair work to the vessel’s bow would be completed later in the month. The paper observes the collision comes three months after the Queen Modjadji welcomed a new commander, Commander Handsome Thamsanqa Matsane (he took command in April).

Teuteberg told the paper he flew to Simon’s Town naval base to inspect the damaged submarine. “I personally went down from Pretoria to Simon’s Town to go and have a look at the submarine and speak to the crew. When I initially heard about [the accident], I thought, ‘Hell, this must have been a bump’ … I spoke to the captain and the officers. Some of them said they didn’t even notice the bump.” The vessel’s “black boxes” – which keep a record of her movements and functioning of her equipment – would help determine the cause of the incident, he said.

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.