Opinion: The submarine – a sophisticated vessel


I am writing this piece in my personal capacity and as a very concerned citizen of Mzansi. My concern is with regards to the articles that appeared in the media recently about the incident of SAS QUEEN MODJADJI I.

It is a known fact that submarines are very complex and sophisticated machines. They are manned by highly trained and skilled individuals who work as a team, each with a specialised or specific responsibility when on board. These individuals, in their areas of specialisation, work as a team under a team leader who is also a highly qualified and experienced person. These qualities put together reflect the highest of skills in a single submarine. But like any other manned machine, no matter how well trained the crew is, the chances of a mishap are always there.

Owing to its complexity, submarine incidents can happen either at sea or in port. A number of submarine incidents have occurred worldwide, involving submarines of the most advanced navies.

The following are some of the submarine incidents that have occurred worldwide:

In August 2000, a Russian Oscar II class submarine, the Kursk (which was the world’s largest class of cruise-missile submarine) sank in the Barents Sea when hydrogen peroxide leaked into the forward torpedo room, which led to the detonation of a torpedo warhead. The explosion and flooding by high pressure seawater killed the majority of the crew.

In February 2001 off the coast of Oahu, the US submarine USS Greeneville (SSN-772) accidentally struck and sank a Japanese fisheries training ship, the Ehime-Maru, killing nine of the 35 Japanese aboard, including four students. The collision occurred while members of the public were on board the submarine observing an emergency surface drill.

In November 2002, the Royal Navy’s Trafalgar-class submarine, HMS Trafalgar (S107) ran aground close to Skye in Scotland.

In February 2003, HMAS Dechaineux (SSG 76), a Collins class submarine of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was operating near her maximum safe diving depth off the coast of Western Australia when a seawater pipe burst and caused severe flooding.

In October 2003, the American Los Angeles-class submarine USS USS Hartford (SSN-768) ran aground in the harbour of La Maddalena, Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea.

In January 2005, a Los Angeles-class submarine, the USS San Francisco (SSN-711), while under way and submerged, collided with an undersea seamount in the Marianas Islands. One sailor died from injuries suffered in the collision.

In September 2006, a Russian Victor-3 class submarine, the St. Daniel of Moscow suffered a fire which resulted in the deaths of two crewmen. At the time of the incident the submarine was anchored off the Rybachiy peninsula on Russia’s north coast near the border with Norway.

In January 2007, USS Newport News (SSN-750) was transiting submerged in the Straits of Hormuz when it hit the Japanese tanker Mogamigawa.

In November 2008, at least 20 men died on board the Russian nuclear submarine K-152 Nerpa, during the vessel’s sea trials in the Sea of Japan. The incident was the worst Russian submarine disaster since the Kursk sank in 2000.

In February 2009, two nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, Britain’s HMS Vanguard and, France’s Le Triomphant collided in the Atlantic Ocean. Both vessels sustained damage.

In October 2010, HMS Astute of the Royal Navy ran aground on a sand bank off the coast of the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

In June 2011, HMCS Corner Brook (formerly HMS Ursula) of the Royal Canadian Navy ran aground in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island.

These are examples of some of the submarine incidents that occurred worldwide. It is quite clear that the world of the submarine is sophisticated, complex and extremely dangerous. You can imagine driving a car without windows. You rely totally on electronics to feed you with information in order to make the right decision. I wonder what the South African media would have said if one of these incidents had happened in South Africa. I guess it would have been a matter of “look at these incompetent people” instead of tackling the issue.

As has been witnessed in many countries operating submarines and judging by the list of submarine incidents in the most developed navies, it is only fair to give credit to the Commanding Officer of the SAS QUEEN MODJADJI I for demonstrating his leadership competency in extreme conditions. He was able to dock the submarine safely with no injuries nor casualties. It is an irritating syndrome that whenever a black person is in command of a ship or submarine, he/she will be watched by others like hawks for any human error so that it can be sensationalised in the media. As a matter of fact, it should be pointed out that the entire officer corps of the SAS QUEEN MODJADJI I are Africans, and proud South Africans. Certain incidents occurred, but did not receive much media attention; one may therefore wonder why this was in the media even before it was officially reported to the appropriate authority.

It is quite a shame that esteemed officers who are trusted by the organisation can share such confidential information with the journalists. I mean what’s there to gain, unless they see themselves as not belonging to the team. It is sad that certain people derive pleasure when others faultier.

The crew of SAS QUEEN MODJADJI I should not be disturbed by this small, not worth mentioning incident which has been blown out of proportion. It is a clear indication that they are doing something good and are hence exposed to public scrutiny. If they were not doing anything, there would be no such reports. They should be saluted! There is no individual in the whole world who is so perfect that he/she does not commit mistakes. Mistakes do happen and we learn from them. Even the renowned SA defence analyst, Mr Helmoed-Römer Heitman has alluded to the fact that submarine accidents or incidents are not uncommon and he commended the SA Navy for having had no such incidents as witnessed around the world.

I hope these individuals, not only in the SA Navy but the entire country, who take pleasure in bringing the country and its people down, will one day learn that it is not worth the effort to do this. It is about time we stop talking and instead start showing that indeed “this is the navy for all and the navy the people need”.