On Wednesday afternoon, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and a range of other emergency medical personnel rushed to Kommetjie in Cape Town after reports of naval mariners having difficulty in the water were reported.
By the evening, three were confirmed dead.
The deceased were identified as Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (Executive Officer), Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (Coxswain), and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela (Coxswain under training).
Hector was the continent's first woman to navigate a submarine.
The injured members were the Officer Commanding (OC), Commander Charles Nkolo Phokane, the Weapons Officer, Lieutenant Melinyani Gobinca, the Warrant Officer in Charge Submarine Escape Training Simulator, Warrant Officer Class 1 Brendan Daly who was also the safety swimmer from the helicopter who jumped into the water as a surface swimmer to assist, the Head of Section Electrical Department, Warrant Officer Class 2 Ayanda Mahlobo, and the Head of Department Detection, Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Kriel.
Lobese said he is currently in the United States for a symposium and was unable to get a flight back home.
“I am currently attending the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island in the US, which had been long planned, where I was informed about this tragic incident.
“Upon hearing about the incident from my team, I tried getting myself home immediately, however, I was unable to secure an earlier flight,” Lobese said.
He said just a week ago on September 13, he spent time with Hector, Phokane and Mathipa.
“They were so proud to inform me about their readiness to proceed to the Waterfront for the Mini Navy Festival and that they will conduct several evolutions en route. We laughed and shook hands, and I wished them a safe journey, never thinking that this tragedy would occur.”
The Mini Navy Festival which was expected to take place at the V&A Waterfront this weekend has been cancelled.
“Allow me to extend my heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family, friends, colleagues, and shipmates of the three members. This is so very sad, not only for the families but also for the Submarine Service, the South African Navy, and South Africa in general.
“I further wish to extend my gratitude to the crews of the SAS MATHATISI and the SA Air Force Maritime Lynx Helicopter, emergency workers, as well as the members of the NSRI, for their heroic rescue efforts. Without them, this terrible incident would have been much worse,” Lobese said.
He said the deceased members will be remembered as brave heroes and heroine who died serving their country with pride and diligence.
“Now is the time for the SA Navy Family to unite and pray for the departed shipmates and their families. Let us all be strong and keep their families in our prayers and thoughts,” Lobese said.
“The SA Navy Submarine Branch is a highly professional and well-trained organisation. That
Mother Nature decided otherwise can’t be blamed on the SA Navy’s Professionalism.
Tragedies of this nature happen all over the world with Navies. The Australian, Indian Chiefs of Navy as well as the US Chief of Naval Operations who were comforting me yesterday shared their own similar experiences while they were at sea.” Lobese added.
A letter of condolences has also been sent from the Chief of the Royal New Zealand Navy.