As the South African Navy frigate SAS Amatola nears the end of her 96 day operational, commemoration and diplomatic visit to various European and African countries, the 177 crew aboard are not taking it easy as they have to prepare for a change of command.
Under Operation Ketane, Amatola departed Simon’s Town on 17 January and has successfully undergone British Operational Sea Training (BOST) off Plymouth, the centenary commemoration of the sinking of the SS Mendi during the First World War near Portsmouth and participated in Exercise Good Hope VII with the German Navy in the Baltic Sea.
Officially, Captain Harry Gwala is due to take over command of Amatola from the current Officer Commanding, Captain Frans Roux, on April 1, 2017.
With Amatola only due back on April 22, this is no April Fool’s joke. Roux told defenceWeb prior to their departure that Gwala would accompany Amatola on her trip, gaining experience of the international environment. This would also allow Gwala to be involved in Exercise Good Hope evolutions, experiencing the routines as they happen and “get into the battle rhythm at sea.”
Although the command handover is supposed to be taking place on 1 April, taking over command of a warship is not something that happens quickly. It is a time consuming and bureaucratic process, accounting for every item aboard the ship.
“We have to go through a lot of routine and procedural processes, from logistical to operational handover,” Roux explained. “We have to muster every single store, every bullet needs to be accounted for, every Rand and cent that we’ve spent which we’ve budgeted for, everything that’s in my name has to be handed over during a period of time.”
From an accountability and control point of view, Roux will remain the Captain until Amatola has returned safely from her epic voyage on April 22. Shortly thereafter, the Chief of the Navy, Rear Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, will preside over the ceremonial side of the handover. It is then that Gwala will physically take command as the new Captain.
Amatola is presently sailing south off the bulge of Africa, due to dock in Tema, Ghana on March 30, departing on April 3. Thereafter, she will visit Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (April 6 to 8), Luanda, Angola (April 11 to 13) and Walvis Bay, Namibia (April 17 to 19).
Roux is due to take over command of SAS Isandlwana, the next frigate due for a refit.
Roux is becoming something of a refit specialist, having already overseen the R335 million/18 month refit of Amatola during 2014/15, the first of the Valour class frigates to undergo the extensive refit.
Reflecting on Amatola’s refit, Roux said it “has probably been the most challenging, but most rewarding” time in his Navy career to date. “New challenges all the way through, but what is nice about starting something like that, is that you take on objectives and you see the fruits of all that effort, all the energy that I put in, you actually see the achievements. From that point of view, the feeling of achievement is incredible.”
Roux will certainly have his work cut out for him, considering that the Navy is undergoing severe strain to maintain its fleet under an increasingly reduced operational budget. His first tasks will be to prepare the Statement of Work, prioritise tasks and to look at funds availability, fitting that into the various financial years.