This is what the navy’s new hydrographic survey vessel – which will house 120 crew, including scientists - will look like.

DURBAN – A South African black-owned shipbuilding company has taken big steps in the transformation of the maritime sector by forging ahead on a multibillion-rand build programme for a new hydrographic survey vessel for the country’s navy.

On Friday, Southern African Shipyards (SAS) went one step further in building what has been described as “the most complex and technically advanced vessel that has ever been built in the country” by holding a steel cutting ceremony at its Bayhead premises in the Port of Durban.

Overseeing the cutting was the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who called the moment “a milestone” and the steel cutting “akin to cutting a ribbon”.

SAS has completed the vessel design and tank-testing phase of the project, meaning they are now ready to start with the actual construction of the ship.

The vessel will be 95 metres in length with about 12.24MW installed diesel-electric power plant and a maximum speed of 18 knots. 

It will have a 10,000 nm range with 44 days endurance and incorporate the latest hydrographic and oceanographic sensor suite. The vessel will be manned by 120 people comprising crew and scientists and will be ice-strengthened to Polar Class 7 requirements.

The project is expected to employ about 500 people.  

SAS will build the vessel with the help of various subcontractors who will integrate various systems into the ship. They will be based at the SAS’s Bayhead works during the project, which is expected to take 40 months.

Mapisa-Nqakula said that the vessel – a first for South Africa and the continent - would not only provide detailed mapping of the ocean floor and better geographical data for vessels such as submarines but would also have massive civilian benefits.

“Our exclusive economic [coastal] zone has been described as the tenth province and potentially the richest. This ship will scan the ocean floor and it will make the seas navigable," said Mapisa-Nqakula. 

"This project benefits the world by providing safe navigation in the region. We are demonstrating that we are truly an industrial powerhouse and that government spending has a positive impact on society at large.” 

The project was important for South Africa and had been commissioned with a “meagre and ever declining defence budget”, said the minister.

The new ship will replace the navy’s SAS Protea, which has been in service since 1972. 

Southern African Shipyards was awarded the Armscor contract for the ship late last year. 

Armscor CEO Kevin Wakeford called it an “incredible project”. 

“This is a research vehicle that will cover a whole variety of the scientific spectra and provide the navy and military with key information and supply information to the global research pot for the civilian world," said Wakeford.

“I don’t think many people realise what defence does for the country and the continent. We are no longer dogs of war but pruning knives of peace.”  

He called on the country to ramp up its spend on the military, making reference to several peacetime missions and projects in and outside of South Africa’s borders. These included providing engineering services to local municipalities and anti-piracy missions along the coastline.

Southern African Shipyards CEO, Prasheen Maharaj, said the company – which is 100% black-owned and 67% woman owned - was Africa’s largest shipyard and that it aimed to drive the transformation of the industry through collaboration and cooperation.

“We are an impact investor. We exist to provide socio-economic impact. The workers own a 12% stake in the company and we will maximise local content without excuses as well as develop black engineers and black professionals including military veterans. We are indeed a world-class company,” said Maharaj. 

African News Agency (ANA)