As the sun set over Simon's Town a chapter in South African naval history was closed, with the decommissioning of the navy's largest combat support and replenishment vessel.

SAS Outeniqua flew the national flag for the last time this week at a sunset ceremony attended by past crew members, former captains and her last crew.

Guests braved the icy winter wind to salute the ship for the last time as the national flag was lowered, marking her departure from naval service.

In an emotional address officer commanding Charl Coetzee said SAS Outeniqua was the largest ship he had operated and it had embedded itself in the navy's history.

He was grateful for his 18 months as captain and noted that the ship was well maintained in its 4 070 days of service.

The original officer commanding in 1993, Rear Admiral Jan Vorster, said the vessel held many memories for him personally.

"It demonstrated its value and versatility all the time. She was destined for something bigger than the navy," he said.

Vorster reflected on the reasons for decommissioning the ship and the difficulty the authorities must have had to make the decision.

The decision to decommission the 11-year-old support vessel was taken to free up resources for the navy's four new corvettes. The navy had apparently spent excessive amounts on maintaining the vessel.

The Outeniqua's primary role was to transport vehicles and equipment in support of operations ashore. A secondary role was that of Antarctic support, replenishment, search and rescue and relief work because it also has ice breaking capabilities.

SAS Outeniqua was bought for R40 million from Russia in 1993 after just one year in service and was commissioned as a replacement for the ageing SAS Tafelberg.

The vessel spent only about a third of its time at sea and over time a considerable sum was spent on upgrading her.

Rear Admiral Arne Söderlund, who was part of the team which took the decision to decommission Outeniqua, said a basic maintenance crew would be kept on board to keep the ship in good order until it was sold.

Söderlund said it would be put out to tender in September. Its value was estimated to be in the region of $4-million.

The rest of the crew of about 100 will be given other jobs in the navy. The dismantling of the ship begins tomorrow.

Outeniqua's duties will now be handled by the navy's other support vessel, SAS Drakensberg.