Presidential Fleet ReviewDate: 5 September 2008
Report and photos by Dean Wingrin
Friday 5 September 2008 was a very special day for the SA Navy and the people of Naval Base Simon's Town, Cape Town. For it was today that the Navy hosted a Presidential Fleet Review.
Until the procurement of new naval vessels was announced as part of the Strategic Defence Package in 1998, the SA Navy, as President Thabo Mbeki said, "comprised largely of ageing and obsolete vessels".
In the subsequent ten years, all four of the new MEKO A200 frigates and three Type 209 submarines have been delivered and declared operational. Thus, the aim of the Fleet Review is to introduce the new Navy fleet to the Commander in Chief, President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa. The Navy sees the event as a culmination of more than a decade of hard work by members of the Navy to ensure that the vessels are operational and that the personnel are competent and professional to crew them.
As Mbeki stated in his address, the South African Navy has made "the transition ... to a first class Fleet, which is endowed with cutting edge technology, and staffed by world-class officers and highly trained and competent young men and women".
The tradition of reviewing ships is more than 600 years old. The first fleet review was an impromptu affair, on a whim King Henry VIII of England, who wished to "see the fleet together". He treated all his captains to a banquet and had them row him around the anchored ships.
The last Presidential Review was conducted in 1997 at the navy's 75th anniversary.
I was most fortunate to have been invited to be aboard the frigate SAS Spioenkop (F147). With the majority of the fleet having been at sea for a number of days, the fleet looked spectacular in the predawn darkness, decked out in lights whilst anchored in False Bay. I took an early morning Namacurra taxi to the Spioenkop were Captain Christopher Manig and his crew welcomed me on board at sunrise. Manig took command of SAS Spioenkop on 22 January 2008.
Soon after sunrise, the naval ships weighed anchor and proceed into the bay, conducting carefully choreographed manoeuvres in order for the fleet to line up in the correct order. Even a large school of dolphins joined in the fun.
President Mbeki and the VVIP guests conducted the 12-vessel review from onboard the naval hydrographic survey ship SAS Protea. Led by SAS Mendi, the Spioenkop was the third vessel in the review, with the SAS Drakensberg, carrying VIP guests and media leaving harbour after the Protea and catching up with the rear of the fleet.
The review fleet consisted of the following (in order):
- SAS Mendi (F148 Frigate)
- SAS Amatola (F145 Frigate)
- SAS Spioenkop (F147 Frigate)
- SAS Isandlwana (F146 Frigate)
- SAS Galeshewe (P1567 Offshore Patrol Vessel)
- SAS Isaac Dyobha (P1565 Offshore Patrol Vessel)
- SAS Umzimkulu (M1142 Mine Hunter)
- SAS Umkomaas (M1499 Mine Hunter)
- SAS Tobie (P1552 Inshore Patrol Vessel)
- SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102 Submarine)
- SAS Queen Mojdajdi I (S103 Submarine)
- SAS Drakensberg (A301 Combat Support Ship)
With a fleet so large in trail, it requires constant watch to ensure that each ship keeps position. This requires constant callouts for bearing and distance of the lead ship (the Mendi), being 500 yards ahead. Having a sophisticated radar onboard certainly helped to ensure that correct formation was kept.
With the Drakensberg having caught up, it was almost time for the review and all crew were ordered to change from their working Blues into their smart white uniforms. Just after 10am, two Super Lynx maritime helicopters, operated by 22 Squadron SAAF, arrived overhead and proceeded to land onboard the Spioenkop (194) and the Amatola (192).
The excitement was certainly palpable as the crew lined the starboard side of the ship, just prior to turning the final port turn in order to pass the Protea with the Commander-in-Chief on board.
As the Mendi approached the Protea, the SAAF arrived. The first formation consisted of three helicopters: Agusta A109 4009 carrying the South African flag, Oryx 1238 carrying the SANDF flag and Oryx 1202 carrying the SA Navy flag. Behind that a formation of three C-47TP Dakotas. Perfect timing and a 21-gun salute is fired as Mendi passes the Protea.
As the Spioenkop passes the Protea, all crew raise their caps and shout their cheers.
We now follow the Amatola through another turn to port and the crew change back into their working Blues. The three-man Super Lynx crew man their helicopter and take-off to perform a training exercise on Table Bay.
With the Review over, the Protea and Drakensberg head back into port, while the frigates, Offshore Patrol Vessels and Mine Hunters continue to circle in the bay.
During this time, the Presidential Parade was held, during which Mbeki addressed the assembled guests.
With the parade over mid-afternoon, we proceed back towards port, collecting the Harbour Pilot who guides us safely to our berth.
Many thanks to Lt Cdr Greyling van den Berg for organising my time on board the Spioenkop and to Capt. Manig and his crew for their co-operation and hospitality.