Three dead, five rescued in SA Navy submarine disaster off Kommetjie, Cape Town
The accident came after a weekend of high winds and rough seas and a South African Weather Service warning of damaging waves in Cape Town on Wednesday.
The Department of Defence (DoD) has confirmed the deaths of three mariners on Wednesday in an incident involving the South African Navy submarine SAS ’Manthatisi. The vessel was offshore of Kommetjie in Cape Town when high waves swept seven crew members out to sea. A rescue operation launched just before 3pm saved the lives of five personnel.
SAS ’Manthatisi was en route to Table Bay from Simon’s Town for the South African Navy Festival, scheduled to take place at the V&A Waterfront from 23 to 25 September. According to the DoD, the mariners were in the process of conducting a “vertical transfer” (Vertrep) using an SA Air Force SuperLynx helicopter when they were swept overboard.
A Vertrep is a method of supplying seaborne vessels by helicopter.
“The Vertrep evolution was immediately cancelled and efforts were launched to recover the members. A surface swimmer was dispatched from the helicopter to assist with the rescue. Unfortunately, the recovery operation was negatively affected by rough sea conditions,” the DoD said late on Wednesday.
“All seven members were recovered, but sadly there were three fatalities, with one senior officer in critical condition. The remaining members, including the surface swimmer, are currently being treated in hospital. The names of the members will be released once the next-of-kin have been informed.”
A weather alert issued by the South African Weather Service warned of “damaging waves” in the City of Cape Town/Cape Point region on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Difficulty in navigation at sea for small vessels and personal watercraft … are expected [sic]. Localised disruption of small harbours and/or ports could also occur. Small vessels are at risk of taking on water and capsizing in a locality,” the warning stated.
“Be aware of large, unpredictable waves along the coast. Small vessels are advised to seek shelter in harbours, bays or inlets.”
Witnesses of the rescue efforts in Kommetjie told Daily Maverick that the swells off the coast were huge.
The naval accident comes just days after high waves, strong winds and a spring tide caused chaos in coastal areas of the Western and Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Seas were rough, and powerful waves swept inland, damaging property and resulting in two deaths.
Read in Daily Maverick: The ‘angry sea’ just ‘kept coming’ – ‘frightening’ weekend storm batters coastal areas of SA
Joint rescue operation
National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Kommetjie was activated following reports of navy personnel in distress offshore of Slangkop Lighthouse, near Kommetjie, said NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon. They were joined by other rescue teams, including the City of Cape Town’s Water Rescue Network, SAPS and SA Navy command.
“Of the seven people that were brought to shore at Kommetjie by NSRI Kommetjie — seven adult males — CPR was conducted on two adult males who sadly were declared deceased on the scene. One adult male was airlifted to hospital by Netcare 911 helicopter. He remains, we believe, in a critical condition. Four adult males were in satisfactory condition and did not require [going to] hospital,” Lambinon said.
Dave Smith, NSRI Kommetjie station commander, reported that one SA Navy officer remained onboard the submarine. She was extricated in the late afternoon, offshore of Hout Bay, in a coordinated operation involving an SA Air Force helicopter, NSRI air-sea rescue swimmers and EMS rescue paramedics.
“Sadly, despite extensive CPR efforts, the female officer was declared deceased. The body of the female was airlifted to the NSRI Hout Bay rescue station. The bodies of the three deceased have been taken into the care of Government Health Forensic Pathology Services,” Smith said.
Lambinon said, “Our thoughts and condolences are with the families who have lost loved ones in this accident, and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this accident.”
In a statement on Wednesday evening, the DA conveyed its “sincerest condolences” to the “families, friends, and colleagues of the mariners who tragically lost their lives” in the incident. DM