Sorry to say I told you so, but as long ago as December 2010 I warned the navy that one of its submarines might accidentally hit bottom.
In a column headed “AC/DC is enough to make anyone blow his submarine fuses”, I wrote: “You have to be awake when it comes to submarines. You could land yourself on the seabed if you shout ‘dive, dive, dive’ (as seen in |the movies) when you really want to surface.”
That’s what seems to have happened to the SAS Queen Modjadji last week. Until then it was our only operational submarine. It struck the ocean floor between Port Elizabeth and Durban during a safety drill involving its hydraulic system.
If that’s the result of measures to ensure the submarine’s safety, we must be thankful it never had to cope with an emergency.
Perhaps the crew thought the Indian Ocean was deeper at that point than it was.
Now the Queen Modjadji is as safe as her two sister ships, the Manthatisi, which has been out of the water, more or less, since 2007, and the Charlotte Maxeke. They are all in dry dock, and can be viewed from my friends’ house on the Simon’s Town hillside, above the naval harbour.
Every time I visit them, they invite me to view our submarines, in the same way as relatives of a recently deceased invite mourners to view the corpse. And very good they look, too, totally free of marine growth, and out of danger unless someone sticks the wrong plug into the wrong socket and blows all its fuses, which is what happened to the Manthatisi.
The Manthatisi also damaged itself when it hit the quay of the submarine pen, but at least everyone now recognises it’s not the only accident-prone |sub in the fleet.
Unlike the Queen Modjadji, it has yet to hit bottom unintentionally, and if it stays where it is out of harm’s way, it never will.
Not that the Queen Modjadji had a big bump.
Rear-Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg said he spoke to the captain and officers afterwards, some of whom “didn’t even notice the bump”.
Probably some lowly rating alerted them to the fact that they had nudged the ocean floor and couldn’t submerge any lower.
It reminds me of my late father-in-law’s mother who, when one of her granddaughters fell pregnant out of wedlock, went about telling the rest of the family that “it was only a drop”.
Blue plastic sheeting has been erected around the submarine’s dented nose to prevent onlookers seeing for themselves what a small bump (like the first visible signs of pregnancy) it was.
Meanwhile the nation will have to survive without any of its R8 billions’ worth of submarines actually in the water doing whatever submarines are supposed to do when that nation has long been at peace and is unlikely ever to engage in naval warfare.
I can think of a couple of things, like spying on illegal nude bathers (up periscope), or dogs without leads on remote beaches. Maybe the Queen Modjadji, named after a famous Limpopo rainmaker, was doing just that when she ran out of water. [email protected]