The South African Navy is launching an investigation into a recent submarine incident, emphasizing that safety measures were in place during the event. The tragic incident occurred as the SAS ‘Manthatisi’ was en route to Table Bay from Simon’s Town for the South African Navy Festival, which has now been canceled.
During a vertical transfer exercise using an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter, a wave swept three submariners overboard. Prompt rescue operations saved five personnel, but unfortunately, three submariners lost their lives.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) released the names of the deceased SA Navy submariners as Master Warrant Officer William Mathipa (48), Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Mojela (43), and Lieutenant Commander Gillian Hector (33). Hector was notably the first woman in Africa to navigate a submarine.
Admiral Musawenkosi ‘Kop’ Nkomonde expressed deep sorrow over the loss and stated that plans for a combined memorial service were in progress, pending consultations with the families of the deceased.
Five remaining crew members were hospitalized, with one senior official in critical condition initially. Nkomonde provided reassurance that the hospitalized crew members were recovering well.
The incident occurred during a routine vertical transfer exercise, where personnel or equipment are moved between a helicopter and a submarine. Despite all safety measures being in place, the accident happened when submariners on the upper deck were swept overboard by a wave.
The sea conditions were challenging, with witnesses reporting significant swells. Maritime experts noted that accidents like this have occurred in the past and emphasized the dedication of submariners.
An inquiry into the incident will be convened by the SANDF, though specific details about the timeline and processes remain unclear. Nkomonde stressed the importance of the inquiry to understand the circumstances fully and prevent future recurrences.
Regarding the decision to conduct the exercise in challenging conditions, Nkomonde refrained from speculating and mentioned that the submarine’s captain typically assesses sea conditions before proceeding with such exercises.
Condolences poured in from President Cyril Ramaphosa, the parliamentary portfolio committee on defense and military veterans, Cape Town Mayor Geordin-Hill Lewis, and others. The nation mourns the loss of the three SA Navy crew members and wishes a swift recovery to the injured personnel.