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Inquiry Announced Into South African Navy Submarine Tragedy

Published September 22, 2023
9 months ago

The South African Navy announced on Thursday the establishment of a board of inquiry to investigate the unfortunate incident that claimed the lives of three members of its crew. This tragedy occurred during an exercise that went awry on Wednesday afternoon following a wave sweeping crew off the deck of a submarine.

The fatalities are Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (Executive Officer), Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (Coxswain), and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela (Coxswain under training). Announcing this sad news during a media conference in Simon’s Town, Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Musawenkosi Nkomonde provided an overview of the event.

The unfortunate incident occurred during a joint exercise with the Airforce Lynx helicopter, purposed for personnel transfer. During this operation, the crew members on the upper deck of SAS Manthatisi submarine were unexpectedly swept overboard by a powerful wave. A second wave subsequently swamped the rescue attempt, leading to the tragic outcome.

A surface swimmer from the helicopter, designated as a safety measure for such operations, was lowered into the turbulent sea to aid the rescue. However, despite successfully recovering the overboard members back to the submarine, the rough sea significantly complicated the recovery process, leading to the regrettable loss of three sailors.

All safety measures for such exercises were in place. All involved crew members were fully kitted with life jackets and safety harnesses, a standard procedure in such instances. Unfortunately, three members did not survive the incident, while the remaining four were transported to hospitals around Cape Town; one crew member remains hospitalised and is expected to be discharged on Friday.

The South African Navy has informed the families of the deceased sailors and is currently making funeral arrangements. On the side of the surviving crew, extensive counselling and offers of required support are being provided. A formal inquiry will be constituted to investigate the incident's cause and prevent future occurrences.

Rear Admiral Nkomonde confirmed that the SAS Manthatisi sustained no damages from the unfortunate event, reaffirming their commitment to safety and stringent adherence to safety regulations during operations.

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