South Africa is suffering from a critical shortage of qualified navy personnel because it cannot afford to pay them, thereby paralysing its brand new submarines, according to South Africa's Cape Argus newspaper.
SAS Manthatisi, photo: SA Navy
Senior naval officers say the navy has launched a recruitment drive but is facing severe competition from the private sector, notably the West African offshore oil industry, which can afford to pay better salaries and is drawing away large numbers of highly qualified sailors in the middle-management level.
In the South African navy a petty officer with 10 years' service serving ashore, earns R88,000 ($13,056) a year as a basic salary. Aboard submarines, this rises to R90,000 ($13,353) a year.
The Rainbow Nation's three U209 class submarines were built by a consortium comprising Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Nordseewerke Emden and MAN Ferrostaal. Vessel S101, SAS Manthatisi, was commissioned on November 3, 2005, while S102, SAS Charlotte Maxeke and S103 SAS Queen Modjadji were both commissioned on March 14, 2007.
The SAS Manthatisi and the SAS Charlotte Maxeke have both been delivered to the South African Navy, although only one is operational, the other tied up at quayside in Simonstown, the port close to Cape Town. Opposition parties are calling for the cancellation of the delivery of the SAS Queen Modjadji which is due to be handed over to the Navy next May, arguing that if there is no money to operate two submarines, then three is out of the question.
The newspaper says officers explain that even putting the subs under wraps, that is undertaking minimal upkeeping to ensure the ship is useable in the future, is too pricey. Eddie Trent, opposition spokesman for military procurement, accuses the government of buying the submarines in such a hurry that it didn't ensure there was money was available to actually operate them.
Rear Admiral Hanno Teuteberg, the navy's director of fleet force preparation, denies the navy plans to mothball one of the submarines. "We have planned our business plan in such a way that we can make most effective use of the boats in terms of our budget," the Cape Argus quoted him as saying.
Teuteberg said it would cost the navy R34.3-million ($5.9 million) a year to operate the "total submarine system", which includes running costs, crews, fuel, training and maintenance for the three ships.