(LONDON) — Three South African Navy personnel have been pronounced dead, and one senior officer remains in critical condition, following a deadly incident at sea off the coast of Cape Town, the South African Department of Defence has announced.
Crew from the South African Navy Submarine SAS Manthatisi were executing a “vertical transfer” of supplies with use of a South African Air Force Lynx helicopter on Wednesday afternoon when “high waves” swept seven submariners out to sea from the submarine deck.
“It is with deep sadness that the SANDF announces the tragic loss of three SA Navy submariners off Kommetjie on 20 September on board the SAS MANTHATISI,” the South African Department of Defence said in a statement.
“A distress call was made to Cape Town Radio who then dispatched the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) from Kommetjie,” the agency said. “All seven members were recovered but sadly there were three fatalities with one senior officer in critical condition.”
The vertical operation was immediately cancelled, with rescue efforts launched to retrieve the submariners.
“A surface swimmer was dispatched from the helicopter to assist with the rescue. Unfortunately, the recovery operation was negatively affected by rough sea conditions,” the statement continued.
The South African Department of Defence has announced the remaining crew members, including the surface swimmer dispatched to assist in the rescue operation, are receiving treatment in hospital.
Among the SAS Manthatisi crew pronounced dead is Lt. Cmdr. Gillian Elizabeth Hector — South Africa’s first ever female submarine navigator with rank of lieutenant commander.
“An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident will be convened in due course,” announced the South African Department of Defence.
Known as the “Spring Tide,” South Africa’s southern and southeastern coast has been hit with powerful waves and strong winds that have caused at least one death, dozens of injuries and widespread damage.
According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), waves as high as 9.5 meters were recorded over the weekend, with social media videos showing waves battering seaside buildings and sweeping away vehicles.
“This high total water level in combination with meteorological and marine conditions resulted in the severe positive storm surge,” said the South African Weather Service in a statement. “These conditions have caused havoc to the South African coastline over the past weekend.”
The SAS Manthisi is one of three German-built Type 209/1400 Heroine-Class submarines in South Africa’s Navy fleet. It was reported to be en route to Cape Town for a three-day Navy exhibition — the SA Navy Festival — which was to see active South African Navy vessels docked on the famous V&A Waterfront.
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