Submarine tragedy shocks SA: Three SA Navy members die in exercise disaster

Kommetjie residents lay wreaths in honour of the South African Navy submariners who were killed and those who are in hospital. Picture: Tracey Adams

Kommetjie residents lay wreaths in honour of the South African Navy submariners who were killed and those who are in hospital. Picture: Tracey Adams

Published Sep 22, 2023


Cape Town - The SA Navy exercise disaster off the coast of Kommetjie which claimed the lives of three submariners has shocked many South Africans.

Early on Thursday morning, Kommetjie residents made their way to the shoreline, close to where the disaster happened, to lay flowers and wreaths.

The SA Navy released the names of the three submariners who died during a submarine exercise when a huge wave apparently hit the submarine while it was out of water.

The three are Gillian Elizabeth Hector from Gqeberha, the first woman to navigate a submarine in Africa, William Masela Mathipa and Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela.

The SANDF said submarine SAS Manthatisi was en route to Cape Town while conducting a vertical transfer (Vertrep) using an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter when high waves swept seven crew members out to sea.

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.

“A distress call was made to Cape Town Radio who then dispatched the NSRI from Kommetjie. 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 being treated in hospital,” the SANDF said.

“The minister of defence and military veterans, deputy minister of defence and military veterans, chief of the SANDF, chief of the SA Navy and Flag Officer Fleet extended their sincere condolences to the families of the members who tragically lost their lives.

“The SANDF further extends its sincere thanks and appreciation to the emergency services who assisted in the recovery of the stricken submariners.”

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Kommetjie station commander Dave Smith said the Kommetjie crew were activated after his neighbour called him on the phone, reporting what he suspected to be SA Navy personnel washed from an SA Navy vessel offshore of Slangkop Lighthouse.

“The bodies of the three deceased have been taken into the care of Government Health Forensic Pathology Services and the four remaining crew survivors were lightly injured and did not require hospitalisation.”

A close relative of Hector, Bronwyn Nel, posted on her Facebook account: “Rest in peace my dearest cousin Gillian. Your loss will be felt for years to come because you left your mark on this world and in everyone’s minds and lives my girl.

“May your mom, Bernadette Malouw, husband and baby son Tristan be comforted by God in this very sad time. Sincerest condolences to the family and friends and navy personnel who came to know and love you.”

Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector, the first woman on the continent to navigate a submarine, also died on Wednesday. Picture: Facebook/Gillian Mallouw

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has since extended the condolences of the City on the passing of the submariners.

“On behalf of the City of Cape Town, I extend my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the SA Navy submariners who passed away as a result of the tragic incident off our coastline on Wednesday. We mourn their loss and pray that they will know our gratitude for their service to our country.

“Our thoughts are also with the survivors for a full recovery. May everyone impacted by this tragedy find peace and strength in this difficult time”.

Police spokesperson Malcolm Potjie said the Ocean View police opened an inquest docket for further investigation following the incident.

The South African Navy on Thursday also said that it will be convening a board of inquiry into the tragic events that led to the deaths of three of its members.

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