SA Navy investing in sub rescue: Mudimu


South African Navy chief Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu has told a meeting of submarines rescuers that the collision between two nuclear submarines off Europe in February and another collision between a nuclear submarine and an amphibious vessel in the Strait of Hormuz in March highlighted the need for their deliberations.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Submarine Escape and Rescue Work Group (SMERWG) and its International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO) are meeting in Cape Town this week.  

Mudimu says it was fortunate that neither of these incidents required a rescue operation, “but they should come as a warning to us all, not to be complacent and to continue with the important efforts with which the SMERWG is charged.”   

He adds the SAN is presently in the “negotiation phase for the building of an advanced submarine escape training simulator, which will allow our submariners to be provided with skills in the latest techniques for submarine escape, commencing in early 2010. 

“I hope that this facility, once completed, will be utilised by other submarine-operating navies in the quest to continuously improve the safety of all our submariners,” he said at the opening of the NATO meeting yesterday.

Mudimu also noted that last Monday marked the 40th birthday of the SAN submarine service, “being the launching date of our first Daphné-class submarine.” 

The admiral noted the new Heroine-class boats are proving their worth. They have taken part in “extensive international exercises during which they have proved, time and time again, the true value of the submarine in modern maritime warfare. 

“They have, furthermore, been busy with patrols in the huge Exclusive Economic Zone of South Africa, including the Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding the Prince Edward Island group, in the southern ocean,” he noted.  

Mudimu described submariners as “unique sailors – they work in an environment where innovation and ingenuity is needed to repair complex equipment when they operate independently for extended periods and far from their home bases. 

“They work within a command structure that appears casual and relaxed to the outsider, but yet their function is more rigid than in surface ships or shore commands, and I trust the bravest and finest of our young to serve their country in these fighting monsters of the sea undetected.  

“We have seen over the years many submarine accidents where a competent Officer Commanding was able to save the crew and ensure that their submarine limped safely home to port.  Many submarine sinking`s occurred through faulty equipment design, failure of equipment and human errors not only at sea but also alongside in harbour. 

“The necessity for trained and competent crews that have the ability to safely operate all equipment onboard is therefore of paramount importance for the safety of the submarine at all times.  

“Many peacetime accidents have occurred worldwide during the 20th and 21st centuries with the loss of numerous lives.  Some devastating incidents with the loss of all lives being the British K- 4 and K-17 in 1918, the German U5 in 1943, the French SURCOUF in 1942 and many more up until recent times. 

“In many cases given the right equipment and a rapid response lives could have been saved.  In this regard we pay tribute to Admiral Momson who through his dedication to the plight of submariners trapped in sunken submarines designed a rescue bell to rescue survivors from a horrifying death below the surface of the sea,” Mudimu said.


“This early research laid the foundation for the creation of a Deep Submersible Search Vehicle, a mini-sub capable of finding and coupling to a submerged submarine in distress.  This was the answer for rescuing lives of submariners that would have otherwise been lost. 

“Furthermore the reaction of the rescue authorities in the event of a submarine accident at any location in the vast expanse of the oceans must be immediate and perfectly coordinated to prevent loss of lives – every second will count. 

“This requires a capability to move the rescue vehicle at short notice to reach the location as fast as time permits.   

“Colleagues, The challenges we face today are to perfect all aspects of submarine escape and rescue equipment and procedures.  It is therefore an honour for me to host this international submarine escape and rescue work group that is mandated with the praiseworthy task of addressing issues relating to saving the lives of submariners in times of distress.”