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Navy tragedy a great loss for South Africa

Published Sep 22, 2023


“The world is filled with nay-sayers and negativity but no one can take away your dreams. If you truly want something, do everything in your power to make it happen. ”

These words are attributed to Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (executive officer) who was confirmed to be among the three SA Navy members who died at sea in Kommetjie earlier this week.

Hector’s colleagues, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (Coxswain) and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela (Coxswain under training) also died at sea.

Four other naval officers were injured during the incident when they were washed overboard.

Hector, a mother of one and survived by her widower Romero Hector, was Africa’s first woman to navigate a submarine. She hailed from Schauderville, Port Elizabeth.

Nelson Bay Municipality mayor Gary van Niekerk said Hector made an “indelible” impression and quoted her words during the World Hydrography Celebrations held in Gerbera earlier this year, saying: “The world is filled with nay-sayers and negativity but no one can take away your dreams. If you truly want something, do everything in your power to make it happen.”

The SAS Manthatisi submarine vessel was en-route to Cape Town while conducting a vertical transfer (VERTREP) by means of an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter when just after 2.30pm, high waves swept the crew members out to sea on Wednesday afternoon.

During a media briefing on Thursday, Rear Admiral Musawenkosi Nkomonde, said all safety precautions were adhered to on board the submarine that the SA Navy members were washed overboard on.

“We will convene an inquiry to establish what happened so as to prevent future recurrence,” said Nkomonde.

President Ramaphosa said: “This is a sad loss for our nation and for our brave armed forces in particular who routinely face danger in order so that all of us can be safe and secure.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends, commanders and colleagues of the crew members we have lost. We wish the injured personnel a full recovery from the physical and psychological trauma they experienced during this tragedy.

We also appreciate the efforts of all role players who, at great risk to themselves, undertook the rescue and recovery operation.”

Also on Wednesday, the SANDF confirmed the deaths of four members who were in an army vehicle about 90km from Upington when a tyre burst caused a rollover accident.

The vehicle was en route to the SA Army CTC for Exercise Vukuhlome.

“A Samil 50 was towing another Samil 50 that got unserviceable. The rear Samil that was towed got a front tyre burst causing both vehicles to roll. Four members got ejected and the Samil fell on top of the members (and they were) confirmed dead on the scene,” SANDF confirmed.

Two members were critically injured while nine others suffered minor injuries.

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary, Advocate Pikkie Greeff, said the incidents served as a sombre reminder of the risks the dedicated servicemen and servicewomen face daily in their unwavering commitment to defending our nation.

Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans chairperson Cyril Xaba said they were “deeply saddened” by the tragedies.

Rear Admiral Musawenkosi Nkomonde briefs the media of the incident in which Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela died. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

“The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans commends the joint rescue efforts of the SAPS, Emergency Medical Services, NSRI, the SA Navy and Air Force for their joint efforts in the rescue operation.

“The committee sends its heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the deceased Navy Officers.

“The committee is with them during this very difficult time and wishes the naval marines who survived the incident a speedy recovery,” said Xaba.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thandi Modise, her deputy Thabang Makwetla, acting Secretary for Defence, Dr Thobile Gamede, Chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, the Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese and Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Musawenkosi Nkomonde also extended their condolences.

Cape Times