The decommissioned SA Navy submarine, SAS Assegaai, could soon resurface as a museum thanks to a project by the Naval Heritage Trust (NHT).
However, it will not be alongside the outer wall of Simon’s Town Harbour, as was the case from late 2010 to 2015, but instead mounted ashore on a special site at the western end of the Cole Point parking area, according to NHT trustee retired Rear Admiral Arne Söderlund.
The new museum precinct will have direct public access, ticket offices and an exhibit building with interactive displays and educational as well as career-guidance information.
“Assegaai was refitted twice during its active career, and the last time it was fitted with very modern equipment. Few people realise that a submarine is one of the best examples of technology in the world from mechanical to electrical to sonar and optics, as well as many other technologies,” said Rear Admiral Söderlund.
Phase one of the project – the construction and casting of the two concrete bases that will hold the 50-metre, 780-ton submarine and the clearing of the property – started at the beginning of November and is almost complete.
Rear Admiral Söderlund said Damen Shipyard is building the mounting for the submarine at no cost as their contribution to the project.
The NHT had raised R600 000 for phase one and now needed to raise more funds to complete the project, he said.
Phase two will see the lifting and placement of the submarine on the new foundations at a cost of R1.2 million, and during phase three, external repairs will be done and doors installed on the side of the submarine for visitors.
According to Rear Admiral Söderlund, SAS Assegaai is one of three of the navy’s French-built Daphné Class submarines that were operational during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The other two were scrapped.
The NHT is a registered public benefit organisation that educates the public about naval heritage, culture, and traditions.
Rear Admiral Söderlund said the submarine museum was closed in August 2015 as it needed hull maintenance, but the work didn’t happen because of budgetary restrictions and the submarine was kept on a shiplift inside the harbour. However, in May the navy authorised the NHT to preserve, restore and operate the submarine as a museum of technology on behalf of the SA Naval Museum.
The submarine will remain the property of the SA Navy.
The museum will be managed and operated by the NHT, the local non-profit Simon’s Town Amenities Development Company (Stadco), and the SA Naval Museum.
“The NHT will manage and operate the submarine on similar principles as were previously in place when it was in the water,” said Rear Admiral Söderlund.
Stadco general manager Neil MacQuilkan said the museum would benefit tourism in Simon’s Town.
“It gives people a reason to stop in Simon’s Town. When Assegaai was run as a museum in the past, it was very popular, and we still get many requests about it,” he said.
Historian and officer-in-charge of the SA Naval Museum Commander Leon Steyn confirmed that a memorandum of agreement had been signed between the navy and the NHT in terms of which the museum would be run as a non-profit venture.
As in the past, guided tours would be conducted by volunteers and ex-submariners, and the submarine would also be available for a variety of other activities such as company functions and school learning opportunities, said Rear Admiral Söderlund.
“The funds derived from these activities will be used to cover all maintenance and running costs,” he said.
Raising the money needed to move and restore the submarine was the only element still outstanding, he added.
“The South African Navy has a limited mandate and a severely restricted budget and will not be able to assist except for the provision of the submarine in its current state as well as the grounds and facilities where the submarine will be placed.
“Funds have been raised to cover the first phase but we need help from the community and corporates to raise enough funds to cover phase two.”
The NHT has created a crowdfunding campaign at thundafund.com