As an everyday civilian (or “civy”) living along the coast of False Bay, one often sees our SA Navy ships out and about, driving around in what seems like useless circles. I, myself, often wonder what they are doing. Sometimes, it looks like fun when they are jumping out of helicopters and being picked up by our harbor patrol Namacurra Class vessels. Other times, I sit there thinking of how scary our submarines are – you never really know where they are until they just pop up right next to you.
As I was brought up in a military family, and a lot of what I have been taught over the years is from my father’s experiences in the SA Navy, I have been lucky enough to be able to ask someone about what is happening when the Frigates and Submarines are out running practice drills. My father, Admiral Digby Thomson, was one of the captains of our old Daphne class submarines (which were decommissioned in 2006 when we received our new Heroine Class submarines). One of our old Daphne class submarines is now a museum for public viewing, which I highly recommend you go and get a tour of – as the tour guides can tell you some of the old secret-operation stories that our submarines took part in. It’s all very ‘James Bond’.
One of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about the SA Navy is that they are useless, and that we don’t need a navy because we are friends with everyone… Well, I suppose it may be slightly true. But, if you consider the potential we have in terms of infrastructure and ships, it’s easy to see that our Navy is far from useless. Our Navy Dockyard used to be at the top of its class – and could be used for ship building rather than just ship repair and refit. We also have the sheer man-power to have fully manned crews for all our Frigates and Submarines.
What I do know is that, even though we only have one completely newly refitted submarine that is currently undergoing sea voyages, she is one of the best in the world. Recently, and over many previous years, we have had visiting international ships from England, Germany and the rest of the world – and when doing war-game exercises with these ships, these international ships can never find our submarines.
So what makes our submarines so stealthy? Well, while our submarines may be smaller compared to the Russian Nuclear submarines, our little diesel-electric submarines have the ability of going dead in the water and even lying disguised on the sea bed. We may have a limited submarine crew, but our submariners are top in their class, and undoubtedly some of the best in the world.
Now, the reason we need a navy is not because we have threats from any foreign forces, but mainly to prevent any threats from such foreign forces. I suppose it works on the principle that if there is chocolate in the kitchen, you’ll probably eat it – despite the fact that it might be your little sister’s chocolate. Conversely, if there is chocolate in the kitchen that is labelled “DO NOT EAT – SCIENCE EXPERIMENT”, you probably won’t eat it – even if you know your little sister lying just to try prevemt you from eating her chocolate. In the context of the SA Navy, let’s hypothetically say we found oil on Marion island, and now American decides they want our oil. Because we have Submarines that are capable of being undedectable in the ocean, America will get the message that if they bring any of their ships within 20 nautical miles of our precious Marion island we will sink their ship. However, without a submarine we have nothing to use as a scare tactic. (Of course, if a crisis situation did arise, without being fitted with R60million torpedoes our submarines can do little more than blow bubbles at the enemy ships – but that’s a discussion for another day).
In an exciting new development, the SA Navy recently bought and old ship from Ken Evans – the Owner of the seal island boat trips out of Hout Bay. They are going to sink the ship in an area called “Pandora” (which no one really knows the location of). Word on the wire is that they are going to attempt to sink it with a missile – which they presume is going to fail. If so, then the submarine will have a go at it with a torpedo, which will definitely sink the old fishing ship to its 2000m grave. Who said our Navy never does anything cool and exciting?
Also, we will soon be receiving a new Damen ASD2310 Coastal Tug, that has been built right here in Cape Town by Damen Shipyard. This is great news, and the community is excited that our government is supporting local shipyards to build our SA Navy boats. Personally, I’m a fan of tug boats, so it will be nice to see some new ones in and around the harbour.
Although one good submarine and a new tug boat doesn’t mean we have the world’s best Navy, I can assure you that our Navy is far from useless. What are your thoughts on the SA Navy and its potential modern day function?