Two of South Africa’s three Heroine-class diesel-electric submarines spent a total of 144 days at sea over the last six months.
“We`re growing our submarine capability, you can only qualify submariners when you go to sea,” a flag officer told defenceWeb at the 3rd Sea Power for Africa symposium last week.
During that period “133 submariners graduated to the next level of training.”
The class has a designated crew of 30 officers and men.
In August last year then-defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota told Parliament the Navy had lost about a third of its submarine crews in roughly five years.
“The SA Navy did train sufficient submariners for all three submarines. However, it has lost numerous qualified submariners,” Lekota said in a Parliamentary answer.
“The SA Navy therefore now has sufficient crew to man the two submarines that are currently operational. The third submarine is undergoing a maintenance cycle and as such does not require an entire crew.
“The SA Navy has gone on record a number of times to indicate that there is a shortage of technical personnel in the Navy. Due to the technical nature of the submarines, the crew is predominantly technically trained, which means that there is currently a shortage of submarine qualified personnel.
“The SA Navy is in the process of implementing a strategy aimed at retaining the scarce skills of submariners and is actively targeting the submariners in the Navy in order to ensure that their services are retained,” Lekota concluded.
The flag officer continues that too many submariners are still leaving the navy before their contracts are completed
“if you look at our submarines, you`ll notice the most junior rate is a petty officer and the captain is ranked a commander. We don`t take [new recruits] straight out of [SAS] Saldanha. They have to train and qualify as artisans and that requires a whole lot of technical understanding and qualification before they get going. That`s the nature of the job.
“The street-to-fleet is long, it is something unique and sophisticated … and we are competing against people with huge budgets [the civil maritime industry that can offer top dollar for skilled maritime artisans].