On Thursday, September 21st, the maritime community was shaken by a tragic incident involving the South African Navy near Cape Town. The crew members of the South African Navy Submarine SAS Manthatisi were in the midst of a “vertical transfer” of supplies facilitated by a South African Air Force Lynx helicopter when tumultuous “high waves” swept seven submariners off the submarine deck.
The South African Department of Defence detailed the harrowing event, noting that the operation was immediately halted, and a rescue mission was swiftly initiated. Despite the valiant efforts, three personnel, including Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector — South Africa’s pioneering female submarine navigator — were pronounced dead. A senior officer is currently battling for their life in critical condition.
The incident occurred against the backdrop of the “Spring Tide” phenomenon, which has unleashed powerful waves and fierce winds along South Africa’s southern and southeastern coasts. The South African Weather Service (SAWS) reported waves soaring up to 9.5 meters, leading to significant coastal damage and endangering seaside activities.
The SAS Manthatisi, one of the three German-built Type 209/1400 Heroine-Class submarines in South Africa’s naval fleet, was en route to Cape Town for the SA Navy Festival. The event was scheduled to showcase active South African Navy vessels at the renowned V&A Waterfront.
The South African Department of Defence expressed its profound sorrow, extending condolences to the bereaved families. An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident is set to be convened. The incident has raised questions about the safety protocols in place during such operations, especially in unpredictable weather conditions. The South African Navy, known for its rigorous training and high standards, will undoubtedly be looking into measures to prevent such tragedies in the future.
As the nation mourns the loss of its brave naval personnel, the incident serves as a somber reminder of the unpredictable nature of the sea and the inherent risks faced by those who navigate its depths. The maritime community worldwide has extended its condolences, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance and safety in all naval operations.