Cape Town - The capacity of the Simon's Town naval dockyard to support SA Navy ships is a major problem, navy chief Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu said on Thursday.
The dockyard had not been able to attract the requisite skills needed to fully maintain and service the fleet, he told reporters in Simon's Town.
The navy was seeking to take over the management of the facility, which had been run by arms procurer Armscor since September 2007.
“One is told that under the old dispensation, we had these capabilities in South Africa,” Mudimu said.
“Today, if we want to fix any of our systems, we are foreign-dependent. The turnaround is very, very long.”
For the navy to stay afloat, it needed to have a working dockyard.
“We have never recovered from the retrenchments that took place (at the dockyard), even long before integration, and after,” he said.
“We have not yet come out of that crisis. That is one of the biggest challenges. We need to be able to deal with that issue.”
It had been hoped that Armscor would turn the dockyard around.
However, while Armscor was exploring new ventures to “revitalise” the facility, it had battled to attract “requisite skills”.
The navy wanted to take over running the facility.
However, “this was going to be another battle in terms of the politics of our country”, because the unions involved with the dockyard did not like to be run by the military.
Navy director for product system support Rear Admiral Monde Lobese, told Sapa the dockyard was only performing a fraction of the repair, refit, and electrical and mechanical maintenance work the fleet needed.
“We need - in terms of our annual and five year plan - 900 000 man hours a year of work performed; currently the dockyard gives us 200,000 man hours,” he said.
“An example of the extent of the problem is the dockyard has only one welder, but needs five. The electrical workshop is operating under capacity, as is the mechanical workshop,” Lobese said.
“And the engine repair capability is not there.”
Mudimu said the extent of the navy's frustration with the dockyard was “well known”.
Earlier, he told reporters the navy was going to re-establish a base at Salisbury Island in the Durban Harbour.
“The SA Navy is going back to Durban.”
Navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique channel and up the east coast needed a base from which to operate.
Asked when the base would be ready, Mudimu said it was needed “yesterday” but did not put an actual date on its completion.
The navy previously had a base on Salisbury Island, but this was downgraded to a naval station in 2001.
The news briefing came a day ahead of Navy Festival 2013, which will see the navy opening its Simon's Town base to visitors on Friday and through the weekend.
This year's event includes a “diving demonstration” by one of the navy's submarines which will submerge in the harbour as well as other displays and performances within the base.
Last year's event attracted over 120 000 people.
According to its website, the navy's ocean-going fleet includes four Valour-Class frigates, three 209-Class submarines, a fleet replenishment vessel, and two Warrior Class fast-attack craft.
It also operates four Westland Lynx helicopters, eight Oryx helicopters, and five DC3 maritime aircraft.
Other vessels include a survey ship, two River Class coastal mine hunters, three inshore patrol vessels, and 26 Namacurra Class harbour patrol boats. - Sapa