Sisulu gives status update of Navy’s vessels

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The South African Navy’s frigates and submarines are operational, with the submarine SAS Manthatisi being the only exception, as it is out of service and awaiting a new battery.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans gave the operational readiness update to the Navy’s vessels in a reply to a parliamentary question by M A Mncwango of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

She stated that the frigate SAS Mendi is within the planned operational cycle and recently returned to Simon’s Town having returned from a four month deployment in the Mozambique Channel as part of Operation Copper. “On completion of this assignment the SAS Mendi returned to Simon’s Town and her crew is currently enjoying operational leave,” Sisulu stated. “In accordance with the Maintenance Upkeep Plan SAS Mendi will be entering an extended maintenance period in May 2012. Such scheduled maintenance periods always require the use of the dry dock to enable standard maintenance on the hull.”

The frigate SAS Amatola and submarine SAS Queen Modjadji 1 are operationally available and recently took part in Exercise Good Hope V with the German Naval Forces last month.

The frigate SAS Isandlwana, which had been on patrol off Mozambique, returned to Simon’s Town in mid-March as a consequence of participating in Exercise Good Hope V with the German navy. The fleet support vessel SAS Drakensberg has subsequently been despatched to the Mozambique Channel to replace the Isandlwana.

This is not the first time that the Drakensberg has been deployed for anti-piracy operations. The Drakensburg, accompanied by the Mendi and the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke, visited Tanzania in September last year to conduct joint exercises with the Tanzanian navy as well as perform anti-piracy patrols.

According to Sisulu, the submarine SAS Manthatisi is presently still in reserve as was reported to the Portfolio Committee on Defence on the 17 November 2010. “A complete new battery has been ordered and will be delivered towards the latter part of the year. This submarine is now also serving as the “first in class” to be scheduled for a planned refit; whilst establishing an indigenous and in-house refit capability.”

SAS Manthatisi has been held in reserve since October 2007 but serves as a platform for training and for planning of maintenance, repair and refit (overhaul) purposes. There have been several incidents involving the Manthatisi. The first occurred when the submarine was in harbour and plugged into a shore service to keep its 250 tons of batteries charged. Someone connected the submarine to this “the wrong way round”, blowing fuses in the submarine, apparently because the wires had not been marked properly. The sailor responsible was disciplined.

In another incident, in rough weather the vessel “banged” into a quay, causing minor damage to the aft plane, which helps steer and trim the submarine underwater. A third issue involved the efficiency of the batteries. When being charged, the batteries produced hydrogen and the build-up of the gas damaged some of the submarine’s batteries, of which there are 480. The problem had been solved by introducing hydrogen release valves and the manufacturer had given the undertaking that some of the damaged units would be replaced free of charge.

The Manthatisi is the lead-boat of class of three submarines acquired for R8.1 billion as part of Project Wills, a component of the Strategic Defence Package. She was laid down at Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Thyssen Nordsee Werke, Kiel on May 22, 2001, and arrived in South African waters in April 2006.

The submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke is fully operational “and serves within the planned operational cycle for this type of vessel,” according to Sisulu. “This submarine and her sister-submarine, the SAS Queen Modjadji 1, have exceeded the expectations with regard to their availability and utilisation for operational utilisation.”
“None of the vessels, excluding the submarine SAS Mathatisi, are presently ‘out of service’. They are all being managed within the approved SA Navy Maintenance and Upkeep Programme (MUP) and as part of the Short and medium term Force Employment Plan. All issues regarding the SAS Manthatisi have been reported extensively and she will in due course once again provide our country with valuable service at sea, whilst the next submarine will enter a refit phase.”