Choose your words

Rear Admiral Chris Bennett SAN Retired, Muizenberg

I believe that someone needs to reply to the rather strange allegations in David Erickson’s letter (“Naval Blunder”, False Bay Echo letters, April 14).

My first point would be to ask that if he takes that much interest in the SA Navy, why then does he not ask the true primary question: “Why the local media has given no coverage to the wonderful job of ‘selling South Africa’ that SAS Spioenkop had just achieved?” The ship was returning from a formal diplomatic visit to three Indian Ocean countries where they were welcomed and achieved good local press coverage about our country. In addition during this deployment they had participated in a sizable International Fleet Review in India as well as in a most successful multinational naval exercise.

Mr Erickson gives the impression that our navy has deteriorated badly since 1994. Strange then that a retired Royal Navy Vice-Admiral who spends much time in the Cape some months ago commented to me that we as South Africans should be very proud of the standards that our navy has maintained and the professionalism that he has noted watching the frigates and submarines sail and exercise in False Bay. I must admit that I take the comment of such a man to be of far greater importance than those of a disgruntled armchair critic from Simon’s Town.

To turn to the specifics of the comment by Mr Erickson. I would like to say that in the first place his terminology is over the top to a degree of absurdity – for example “rank bad seamanship” is what put the Costa Concordia ashore resulting in the loss of life and the most costly maritime clean-up operation in history, not a mere wetting by seawater spray, which all proper sailors are used to anyway. It might also be of interest to Mr Erickson to note that we had more accidents during Admiral Biermann’s time than in the 22 years of the new democracy. And, to put that in context, in the two decades of our new democracy our frigates and submarines have put in more sea time per year than in any other period since the end of the Second World War.

I also find it interesting to note that he has the temerity to claim that those on the Imvubu “no doubt enjoyed their sister vessels discomfort” when he could not have observed such behaviour since as far as I can make out he was not on either one of the tugs, or the frigate, at that time.

Finally I would like to point out to the readers that in most modern warships, including the Valour Class, the shipboard berthing parties are not normally visible as they are working below the level of the upper-deck and the old fashioned manning of the upper deck in clean white uniforms for entering harbour fell out of fashion in the Royal Navy before we followed their example in our navy.

It is really only during high ceremonial occasions such as International Fleet Reviews that the ship’s company assembles “on parade and in parade uniforms” on the upper decks.