Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2008-08-03 Reporter: Megan Power Reporter: Jocelyn Maker

The Dud Sub



Sunday Times



Reporter Megan Power, Jocelyn Maker

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Vessel stuck in dry dock after a litany of problems

The first of the three German Type 209 submarines bought in South Africa's notorious arms deal has spent most of the past six months out of the water.

SAS Manthatisi S101, delivered to Simon's Town in April 2006, has been plagued by serious defects, including hull valve problems, and the vessel has languished in dry dock for months.

Problems are not new to this vessel. On its maiden journey to South Africa from Germany, its snort-mast (air intake for diesel engine) housing imploded, putting the boat and its crew at risk.

Some weeks ago, on returning to the water, S101's batteries were flat. Contrary to correct procedure, the boat was connected to an onshore power supply, causing an implosion. As a result, the submarine is back on land again. The Sunday Times has also established that:

* The SA navy has only enough crew to man two of the three submarines;

* As quickly as the navy trains submariners, they're poached by the private sector for higher salaries;

* The navy doesn't have enough money to fully or properly operate more than two frigates and one submarine, and even less money available to maintain four frigates and three submarines;

* When SAS Queen Modjadji S103, which arrived in Simon's Town a few weeks ago, had to undertake its first safety dive in Germany, the South African crew refused to take part as they were too afraid;

* A new navy arms deal is on the cards to acquire the kind of vessels that should have been bought in the first place; and

* Cabinet has approved the purchase of a fifth corvette, an option built into the 1999 arms deal.

Yesterday, Department of Defence spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said that the S101 submarine had had "normal" problems, including "hull valve challenges" that had been rectified.

"Additional engineering changes for the entire class are planned to be carried out as the boats are being optimised for local conditions," he said.

He confirmed that crew numbers were a problem, saying that after spending a lot of money training submariners for the 209s, they had been lost to the private sector.

"We want to ask the private sector to recruit and train their own people and to stop poaching ours," said Mkhwanazi. Submarine allowances to retain crew were in the pipeline, he said.

South Africa's military strategy, he said, was to operate two submarines in peacetime and only bring in a third in the event of war.

He denied that the crew of S103 had been afraid to do safety dives in Germany, saying they were not "contractually allowed" to complete sea acceptance trials prior to the handover.

In the new arms deal, the navy wants to include at least six offshore patrol vessels, costing around R280-million each, and one or two helicopter landing vessels, capable of carrying troops, equipment, jeeps, helicopters and even a mobile hospital. These carrier vessels were designed specifically for peacekeeping and disaster relief work.

Tenders for this new equipment could go out as early as next year.

Mbeki's justification for spending R30-billion on the arms package was so that South Africa could become the dominant peacekeeping force in Africa. But navy experts and inside sources say submarines are offensive weapons, not designed for peacekeeping purposes, and that the four frigates also do not meet the navy's pressing need for vessels to protect SA's fishing rights, gas resources and to deter the growing incidence of piracy and smuggling.

Mkhwanazi said no final decisions had been made on new purchases and that the department was "engaged in internal processes" aimed at implementing a cabinet decision to buy the fifth frigate.

Here's what the Germans sold us

The three Class 20 Type 209 1400MOD diesel-electric submarines have eight armament tubes and 14 on-board torpedoes.

They can stay at sea for 45 days, plus seven days' emergency.

Each submarine has a complement of 30 crew.

The overall length is 62m, breadth is 7.6m and the sub can dive up to 200m.

Submerged speed is up to 20 knots, with a typical surface cruising speed of 10 knots.

The total cruising range is 10 000 nautical miles.

Then and Now

Pomp and Circumstance: The SAS Manthatisi S101, when it was handed over to a delegation of the SA National Defence Force led by defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and the head of the navy, Vice-Admiral Refiloe Mudimu at a commissioning ceremony in Kiel, Germany, in 2005. The SA navy provided this picture of the occasion, where a band and bunting added pomp and colour. On the right, the once-proud submarine languishes in a dry dock at Simon's Town where it has spent most of the past six months, plagued by various problems. Picture: Esa Alexander

With acknowledgements to Megan Power, Jocelyn Maker and the Sunday Times.