The SA Navy will be invading – in the nicest possible way – the Port of East London next week.
Three of its vessels – the Valour Class frigate SAS Isandlwana, the Heroine Class submarine SAS ‘Manthathisi and the hydrographic survey vessel SAS Protea – are set to enter harbour in the Eastern Cape city on Wednesday ahead of World Hydrography Day on June 21.
South Africa is a valued member of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) which has marked the day for the past 10 years.
Hydrography is the art and science of mapping the ocean floor. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “our seas and waterways – yet to be fully charted and explored”.
Explaining the theme IHO said: “Much of the world’s sea, oceans and navigable water remain unsurveyed and when it is taken into account that there are higher resolution maps of the Moon and Mars than for many parts of the world’s seas and coastal waters the day is intended to raise awareness of hydrography.
“This year’s theme also provides the opportunity to encourage innovative supplementary data gathering techniques to assist in obtaining more useful depth data. This includes crowd-sourcing using existing ships and ships’ equipment and developments in the analysis of satellite imagery in areas where the water is clear enough. These methods cannot replace highly accurate and thorough hydrographic surveys using specialist ships and equipment but they can provide useful depth information where otherwise there is none,” the IHO said.
Explaining the importance of hydrography to South Africa as a nation Commander Greyling van den Berg said: “Eighty percent of the world’s trade moves across the oceans and more than 90% of South Africa’s imports and exports are transported by sea. This means it is vital for ships coming to our harbours with goods destined for our ships to know they can safely sail without any danger of running aground”.
Hydrography has been a practised discipline in the South African Navy since 1922 and the country became a full member of the IHO in 1955.
Protea is more than 40 years old and is still able to aptly fulfil her duties thanks to an equipment and systems upgrade five years ago. She is due to be replaced and tenders are currently being awaited by Armscor. Indications are the tender evaluation could take up to a year so the Navy will only know by mid-next year where its new hydrographic is coming from and, more importantly, when she will be ready for service.
The maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has an important role in the blue economy part of the Presidential Project Phakisa. Maritime security is a priority area and this, in addition to the need to constantly survey busy shipping lanes, will mean much work for the Navy.
As Van den Berg explained: “About 40% of the waters around South Africa have to be resurveyed using modern equipment. It is also important to constantly survey busy shipping lanes because underwater currents can change the depth and the profile of the ocean bottom”.
The three Navy vessels will depart East London on June 21 and steam to the Navy’s home port of Simon’s town after being open to the public on both Saturday and Sunday ahead of leaving.