Submarines: Poacher Patrol Pleases Penny Pinching Politicians


June 8,2008: South Africa has found a novel use for its new Type 209/1400 class submarines; catching poachers. It works like this. South Africa owns two islands (Marion and Prince Edward), some 1,800 kilometers to the south, nearly half way to Antarctica. The islands are uninhabited (except by scientific researchers),and surrounded by valuable fishing grounds, which are for the use of South African fishing boats only. Keeping the poachers out has proved to be a problem. That's because of the weather. It's raining 90 percent of the time, overcast and windy. Very windy, with 15-20 foot waves. The temperature is chilly all the time. A very nasty part of the world.

South African patrol boats could not safely, or adequately, patrol the area. But it was known that foreign fishing boats would wander in, drop their nets, quickly fill their holds with a very valuable catch, and be off. This is where the new subs come in. Subs, even diesel-electric ones that spend most of their time on the surface, are better able to handle nasty weather. Moreover, subs are stealthy, and can get close to foreign ships illegally fishing and collect evidence. The government can then sue and collect a lot of money, not to mention discouraging other poachers. The sub has a sonar that can detect, and track, ships at long distance. And the high tech periscope can detect heat, and has night vision.

The South Africa subs are also quite good at more conventional pursuits. One of them, SAS Manthatisi, recently distinguished itself during exercises with a NATO/South African task force. The sub avoided efforts by surface ships and aircraft to detect it, and proceeded to "destroy" several NATO ships.

Unfortunately, because of money and personnel shortages, only two of these subs can operate, with the other one basically just sitting in port with a skeleton crew. That one is also undergoing maintenance, so the crew shortage is not a total loss.

South Africa only received its first Type 209 sub two years ago. The second one entered service a year ago, and third one arrived recently. The German built Type 209 is one of the more widely used diesel-electric subs in the world. The South African boats displace 1,300 tons, are 183 feet long, have eight torpedo tubes and carry 14 torpedoes and a crew of 36.

The South African Navy needs $1.2 million each year to operate each Type 209 boat. The government has not been providing enough money to cover all those costs. To make matters worse, the expanding oil industry, and high tech sectors of the economy, have been tempting experienced officers and NCOs to leave the submarine service. Currently, an experienced submarine petty officer earns about $13,400 a year. Civilian jobs offer two or three times that. The navy needs about a hundred submarine sailors to provide full time crews for the two boats it has in service. Another fifty qualified sailors are needed for the third boat.

If the poacher patrol is a success, the government may be motivated to provide the cash needed to keep all three boats in service. There are 59 Type 209 boats in service worldwide, in a dozen different navies. South Africa had previously operated 860 ton French Daphne class boats. The new Type 209 boats cost South Africa $285 million each.


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