Three SA Navy officers dead after being swept out to sea

Three South African Navy officers have died after they were swept out to sea during a Navy exercise on Wednesday. Picture Chris Binnington

Three South African Navy officers have died after they were swept out to sea during a Navy exercise on Wednesday, according to a statement by the South African National Defence Union (SANDU)

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said in a statement that seven crew members of the South African Navy submarine SAS Manthatisi were swept out to sea offshore Kommetjie near the Slangkop Lighthouse.

The families of the deceased members have been notified and military chaplains and social workers are offering support to the family.

The names of the submariners who died are: 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).

According to the SANDF statement, SAS Manthatisi was en route to Table Bay from Simon’s Town for the South African Navy Festival, scheduled to take place at the V&A Waterfront from Saturday September 23 to Monday September 25.

The statement said that the officers were in the process of conducting a vertical transfer (Vertrep) using an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter when they were swept overboard.

“The Vertrep evolution was immediately cancelled and efforts were launched to recover the members. 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 read.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesperson, Craig Lambinon, said NSRI Kommetjie was activated at 2.47pm following reports of Navy divers in difficulty off-shore of Slangkop lighthouse.

The NSRI were assisted by several other rescue services, including the City’s Fire and Rescue Services, Cape Medical Response, SAPS, the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, and the South African Air Force 22 Squadron, an Oryx helicopter and a Lynx helicopter, and NSRI Airborne Sea Rescue were activated.

The SANDF said there will be an inquiry into the failed operation.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill Lewis has extended the City’s condolences on the passing of the SA Navy officers.

“Our thoughts are also with the survivors for a full recovery. May everyone impacted by this tragedy find peace and strength in this difficult time,” he said.

In a statement, also conveyed their condolences to the families of the deceased and the South African Navy, saying the team was “deeply saddened” by the incident.