Despite her old age, a forty year old submarine has just obtained a new lease of life: as the first South African warship to be preserved intact.
SAS Assegaai (S99, formerly SAS Johanna van der Merwe), the third of three Daphne Class submarine built in France for the SA Navy, was commissioned in 1971. She served her country well and with the acquisition of three new Type 209 submarines, she was decommissioned in November 2003. Unlike her two sisters which were cut up for scrap, she was retained for preservation as an exhibit at the SA Naval Museum.
Retired Admiral (JG) Arne Soderlund formed the SOS (Save Our Submarine) organisation to stop Assegaai from becoming scraped. Together with many serving and retired submarine crews and support personnel, they managed to scrape the funds together to refurbish both the interior and exterior of the submarine.
The opening ceremony was held Tuesday at the Simon’s Town naval base and was attended by the Naval Command Council, Directors of Fleet Command, local dignitaries and retired officers who served in submarines. The guest of honour was Rear Admiral (JG) Theo Honiball (Ret) who as a Lieutenant Commander was her first officer commanding. The ribbon was cut by Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu, Chief of the Navy, who used the occasion to emphasise the role played by the SA Navy to assist seafarers around the world, including operations off the east coast of southern Africa.
Assegaai is the first naval vessel to be preserved at the Naval Museum. She was laid down at the Dubigeon-Normandy shipyard in Nates, France, on 24 April 1969 and launched on 21 July 1970. She was commissioned on 21 August 1971 before arriving in South Africa on 4 May 1972. She served the SA Navy with distinction, including ten clandestine special operations during the Border War and decommissioned in 2003. Her sister boats, SAS Spear (S97, formerly SAS Maria van Riebeeck) and SAS Umkhonto (S98, formerly SAS Emily Hobhouse) were scrapped in 2003 and 2008 respectively.
During her career, Assegaai underwent four refits, culminating in a refit in the late 1990’s when she received a Project Nickles fully intergrated combat suite and two rebuilt periscopes. It is testimony to the dedication of the preservation group that her interior is immaculate and all the electronic equipment is still works.
She is currently afloat in the East Yard ahead of the Cable Restorer and is available for public visits.
Pic: Rear Admiral (JG) Theo Honiball (Ret), left, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, right and Rear Admiral Bernard Teuteberg, background, share a light moment in the former submarine’s combat centre.