Submarines: South African Subs Starving


December 9, 2007: Personnel and money shortages have forced the South African navy to sideline one of its two new Type 209/1400 class submarines. This despite the fact that one of them (SAS Manthatisi) distinguished itself during recent 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. Because of money and personnel shortages, only one of these subs can operate, with the other one basically just sitting in port with a skeleton crew.

South Africa only received its first Type 209 sub last year. The second one entered service earlier this year, and third one arrives next Spring. 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 will be needed for the third boat, when it arrives in about six months.

There have been suggestions that the third boat be sold off before it is accepted, and that one of the two boats now in service be put into storage. Officially, the navy refuses to consider either of these options. But unless the government comes up with a lot more money, to pay submarine sailors sufficient bonuses, maintaining crews, or the boats, will be impossible. Other nations, including the United States, have had to offer large bonuses to submarine sailors, to prevent poaching by better paying civilian employers.

There are 59 Type 209 boats in service, in a dozen different navies. South Africa had previously operated 860 ton French Daphne class boats. The Type 209 boats cost South Africa $285 million each.


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