Navy workhorse bows out

The South African Navy’s long-serving workhorse, the SAS Outeniqua, is being formally retired from the service on Friday—though she still has a lot of life left in her.

The decommissioning of the 12-year old vessel marks a shift in the navy’s capability and spending priorities resulting in part from its acquisition of new corvettes.

“She’s been a very good ship: she took part in some major operations,” navy director of special tasks Rear Admiral Arne Söderlund said on Friday.

But he added: “By losing her the navy’s not going to lose any real capability whatsoever.”

He said Armscor, the marketing and acquisitions arm of the defence force, will be given a brief to market the 21 000-ton vessel, which has an ice-breaking capability.

Söderlund will suggest she be offered to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, which made extensive use of the Outeniqua when it was building a new base in Antarctica in the late 1990s.

But she could equally go to another government, or to the private sector, he said.

The Outeniqua‘s main purpose in the navy was to provide “sealift”—transport of vehicles and heavy equipment in support of operations ashore.

She could also back up the SAS Drakensberg in offering combat support for other vessels, replenishing supplies of fuel, water, missiles and ammunition.

However, Söderlund said she is able to carry only a fraction of the 590 tons needed to refuel fully only one of the new corvettes—and is slow. 

In addition, the navy has to manage on an increasingly tight operating budget.

“So we must make the best use of what we’ve got, and the priority must go to the new hulls,” he said. “Her time has come.”

The Outeniqua is still in “very good nick” and has another 12 to 15 years of life left in her.

“She’s just come back from Saldanha and a trip to Durban. She’s running well, so we’re optimistic we’ll find a decent buyer for her.”

He said the navy has no need to mothball her and this would also be too expensive.

The Outeniqua was launched at the Kherson shipyards in the Ukraine in September 1991 as the Alexander Sledzuk

She was bought on behalf of the South African Navy in 1993, as a replacement vessel for the ageing fleet-replenishment vessel SAS Tafelberg.

The Outeniqua was used as a platform for peace talks initiated by then president Nelson Mandela off the coast of the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1997.

She delivered the world’s largest mobile hospital as well as emergency supplies to Trieste, Italy, for victims of the war in Boznia-Herzegovina in 1993.—Sapa

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