SA sub “sinks” Atlasur fleet

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A South African Navy submarine returned to Cape Town on Sunday, having successfully participated in an international maritime exercise which included twice transiting the South Atlantic Ocean. In the process, they “sank” two vessels of the opposing fleet.

The submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102) participated in Exercise Atlasur VIII, a multinational maritime exercise between the navies of South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. This year, the exercise was hosted by Argentina and the submarine departed Simon’s Town naval base for the Argentine naval base of Mar el Plato on October 4.

Although the submarine was joined by the combat support ship SAS Drakensberg (A301) in its deployment to Argentina, they did not travel in convoy and the submarine operated independently on the 3700 nm voyage to Argentine waters. However, the two vessels did spend one day together at the mid-mark position.

Speaking to defenceWeb in an exclusive interview aboard the submarine prior to docking in Simon’s Town, the captain, Commander Daren White, said: “The boat was so well prepared, we didn’t need any assistance.”

Although the surface ship evolutions comprised the majority of the exercise, the Charlotte Maxeke also exercised with the Argentine submarine ARA Salta (S-31). These evolutions included submarine-against-submarine, formation transit and evading P-2 Tracker as well as P-3 Orion anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

The crew of the Charlotte Maxeke were particularly proud of their accomplishments. Lieutenant Commander Graham Mountifield, operations officer, recounted: “Our last exercise was where we had to attack the combined Atlasur surface fleet. We penetrated the screen and simulated the firing at the Uruguay (a Uruguayan frigate) and the Drakensberg. We sunk them both.”

White noted that only once before has a South African submarine crossed the Atlantic. That was in 1993 when the old Daphne class boat SAS Maria van Riebeeck (S97) went to Argentina. The trip across the Atlantic is generally feared as it presents logistical and other problems.

White continued, “Because we were crossing the Atlantic and the fear of the unknown, we decided to reduce our speed to 6.7 kts, which made it 23 days. It just made it more comfortable, we really didn’t know what to expect with the currents, weather, etc. It’s lucky we did that, because we went through a hectic storm which lasted about five days.”

During the storm, the submarine went deeper than normal in order to reduce the roll. As they had that experience, the return trip was faster, taking only 20 days. “On the way back, we did a replenishment at sea exercise with the Drakensberg. Not because we needed fuel, but because we wanted to do the exercise,” White explained.

The Argentine navy or Armada Argentina currently operates three submarines, of which the Salta, also a Type 209 submarine, is similar to the Charlotte Maxeke. However, it is an older version, built in the early 1970’s. An Argentine submariner accompanied the Charlotte Maxeke from Simon’s Town to Mar el Plato, while another submariner was aboard for the return trip. During the exercise, three Argentine submarine crew were also aboard. “They were sonar people, to see how we do the sonar,” White said.

After the exercise, the Charlotte Maxeke went alongside the Drakensberg in Montevideo, Uruguay for a goodwill visit and participated in the Uruguayan Fleet Review to celebrate their Navy’s 193rd anniversary.

The Charlotte Maxeke has had a busy 2010. The total distance covered during the recent trip, over 64 days, was 9800 nm, of which 81% was under water. The submarine completed Exercise IBSAMAR, together with Brazil and India, just a week before leaving for Argentina. “We penetrated the IBSAMAR fleet, also a screen, at night off Scarborough and fired a torpedo,” a proud White commented.

Prior to that, the submarine participated in Operation Kgwele, the SANDF safety and security contribution to the Soccer World Cup and also performed a 31 day patrol off the South African east coast. All in all, the Charlotte Maxeke spent 103 days at sea during 2010. The crew of the Charlotte Maxeke can be proud of what they have achieved. For White, arriving back safely had an additional necessity: His wife is expecting twins in a week’s time.

In light of this, the last words should go to White: “The guys are tired, very happy, but tired.”



Pic: Lt Walter Tigero (Armada Argentina) and Cdr Daren White