On 10 February 1967, the South African Navy placed an order with the French Government for three Daphne-class submarines: The SAS Maria Van Riebeeck (S97), SAS Emily Hobhouse (S98) and SAS Johanna Van Der Merwe (S99). The arrival of the three submarines in Simon’s Town on 19 june 1972 marked South Africa’s first ever submarine capability and the SAS Johanna Van Der Merwe was quickly deployed in 1975 to Angolan waters to prepare for the evacuation of SA Military Personnel from Angola. Following South Africa’s political changes in 1994, the three submarines were later renamed in 1999 to SAS Spear, SAS Umkhonto and SAS Assegaai respectively. After more than 30 years of service, the first (SAS Spear) was cut up for scrap in 2003, followed later by the SAS Umkhonto in 2008. The SAS Assegaai however now lies next to the Naval harbour in Simonstown serving as a floating museum, the curators of which are the proud retired crew that once manned her. Anyone who has done the S99 tour would have picked up on the tour guide’s enthusiasm, that glitter in their eyes as they explain in tremendous detail the inner workings of what was once cutting edge technology.
Sadly, as she lay motionless on the outside of that harbour wall, the ocean is doing what it does best: Slowly converting her into a floating reef, inhabited by organisms who thrive in the same torpedo tubes that once dispensed mighty weapons. She now relies on the service of volunteers to join her in the water where she lay and clean her hull of the ever thickening layer of marine foliage.
This coming Sunday, 3 August 2014, the Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club will be doing just that. Fifteen club volunteers will be taking to the water in two sequential dives: The first to relocate the marine life currently residing on the SAS Assegaai, followed by a second dive to scrape the hull and remove the plants and barnacles which have accumulated since the last clean up.
I will also be using the first dive as an opportunity shoot some underwater footage of her in an attempt to capture her vast presence in the water and hopefully, inspire some support for her continued maintenance and protection for generations to come.
Stay tuned for some pictures and videos of the SAS Assegaai!