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Peter Elrick: They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

WO1. Piet van Zyl (TAS Ret): In 4 hours time 35 years ago we lost 16 friends, may they sleep well. For the 173 survivors we are gratefull for the grace of Almighty. I have tears in my eyes & heart. We salute all,and the ship, lest we forget. Lofty e-mail me.

DK Pillay: What a tragedy to lose shipmates and friends. What a fantastic crew. Rip

Charl Starke: 35 yrs ... seems like the other day

John Richardson: when on TFB I took 8mm cine doing RASwith PK and PS, tried to get on PK

Garth Coetzer: Was at school with Robyn Myers. A nicer guy you couldn't meet. I think he took a lot of the flack for this tragic incident at the time. Events clearer now from this report. We will indeed remember those who lost their lives in the early hours of that morning.

Cherylynn Wium: As always on Sunday 18th I will be remembering those men lost at sea and giving thanks for those brave men who made it back. Never to be forgotten!

Cherylynn Wium: 37 years. RIP never to be forgotten

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The loss of SAS President Kruger

Thursday 18 February 1982

Chris Bennett

SAS President Steyn (F147) and SAS President Kruger (F150) carry out a light jackstay exercise at sea. This picture was prior to November 1974 (Operation Savannah) as both ships still show their Pennant numbers and a leaping Springbok on the funnel


Two Ships Collide

Setting the Scene

On Wednesday 17 February 1982 the 10th Frigate Squadron consisting of SAS President Kruger (Capt ‘Wim’ de Lange –  also  the Senior Officer of the group) and SAS President Pretorius (Captain ‘Nick’ Vorster) together with SAS Tafelberg (Captain ‘Nick’ Smit) had been exercising for two days with the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse some 80 miles west south west of Cape Point.

The purpose of the exercise was practical training for the Submarine Officer Commanding Course – usually known by its acronym SMOC – who were all on board the submarine.

They had commenced each day at 06:00 with  increasingly  complex  exercises  as  the day progressed until 23:00.  The concept being that each day a different candidate would be given the opportunity to act as Captain of the submarine for the purpose of “penetrating the screen”  and “attacking”  the escorted vessel (Tafelberg)

As the frigates were not fully manned and to give the primary operators an opportunity to relax, from 23:00 until the exercises were due to re-commence at 06:00 the surface force carried out  simplified  exercises  whilst  following  a narrow but long legged zigzag course; virtually reversing course every two hours in order to remain within the designated exercise area.  This allowed the officers on the SMOC to practice tracking the surface ships and maneuvering the submarine.

Inherently the exercises also gave the two frigates an excellent opportunity to train their ships’  companies  in  the  problems  of  anti-submarine  warfare  and  the  complexities  of screening (1) a main body.

(Screening means protecting the main body (the ships being protected) by searching the waters surrounding that main body for any threat and then protecting the main body by carrying out an attack on that threat, in this case a submarine.)

Regretfully,  by 1982 the  President  Class frigates were no longer considered to be the ‘pride of the fleet’ as they had been in the 1960s after they arrived in South Africa when they had always got the pick of the available manpower and were assured of full maintenance of all their systems. In those ‘Golden Years’ replacement of  broken,  aged or obsolete  equipment was virtually automatic.  In contrast by 1982 most of the experienced men (both officers and ratings) in the Navy were being channeled to the new strike craft and mine hunters. An additional less well known factor was that as the result of national and internal Defence Force politics in 1977, the President Class against  the  wishes  of  the  Navy, had been declared redundant to requirement and scheduled for disposal by the end of 1978 as soon as the  first two French ‘Aviso’ corvettes at that time on order were operational.  This decree also prohibited any further funding for the replacement of obsolete or unserviceable equipment on the three ships.

When the United Nations Arms Embargo was made compulsory in November 1977 and the corvette contract cancelled by France, although the disposal instruction was allowed to lapse, the moratorium on replacement or refurbishment of equipment remained in force.  (The story behind this decision is a whole subject on its own so I will not go into it any further now.  Anyone interested in it will find this story in my book ‘Three Frigates’)

To cut a long story short the ships were under manned and their equipment was becoming old and fractious, often prone to at worst breaking down at the most inopportune moments and at best simply being less accurate.


The Accident

As the middle watch (midnight to 04:00) was reaching its end the surface vessels were proceeding on a base course of 016° with the two frigates executing a sector screen ahead of the Tafelberg (TFB).   In this form of anti-submarine screen the screening ships are given ‘patrol  boxes’ or  sectors  delineated  by  two bearings plus a minimum and maximum range from the main body.

Diagram 1

In this case President Kruger’s (PK) ‘box’ was on TFB’s port bow between a bearing of 330° and  010° and between  2000 and 5000 yards from the center of the formation. President Pretorius (PP) was in a similar box on the starboard bow.  The escorts were required to patrol within their ‘boxes’ in a random manner changing course and speed continuously in the process whilst maintaining a sonar, radar and visual search for any approaching submarine. The next reversal of course was due at 04:00 when the surface fleet had to change course to the south by 154° to a new base course of 170°, in other words 26° less than a full reversal.

This also required an equivalent ‘reorientation’ of the screen to bring the two frigates back ahead of the TFB.   A similar reorientation had already been successfully completed during the middle watch at 02:00 when the surface force had been turned to the north onto the base course of 016°. The order given for this re-orientation required that  the  two frigates first complete their  re-orientation of the screen before TFB was turned onto the new base course.At 03:50, the PK as senior ship signalled the instruction to PP to reorientate the screen, instructing TFB to remain on the old base course until the reorientation was completed.

In Diagram 1 two options are shown for the PK.

1.  The first was to turn outwards, that is to port, and complete what was effectively a 200° turn.   As stated in the Navy Board of Inquiry this was the simpler and safer of the two options as it meant that the ship was turning away from the other two vessels.   However in tactical theory it was less effective as it left a large area of water ‘unswept’ by sonar and would probably in a war time scenario not even be considered.

2.  The second option was to turn inwards, that is to starboard, and complete a much smaller turn of only  154°.   Once again as stated by the Naval Board, although this was not wrong and was tactically the correct maneuver, it was also the more difficult and dangerous.

Although this was in reality a low intensity exercise the PWO1 (in charge of the Ops Room), lacking any clear instruction from his Captain, took it upon himself to decide to use option two and instructed the OOW2 to turn to starboard to take up the new station.

(1  Principle Warfare Officer.  This is both a qualification, indicating that the officer concerned has passed the appropriate courses, and a watch keeping title given to the of ficer in charge of the Operations Room from where any operation is coordinated and controlled. One of the requirements to qualify  is a Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate.

2  Officer of the Watch.   Normally an officer who has passed the relevant training courses, has a minimum laid down experience as Second OOW to a qualified officer and has passed the Watch-keeping Board – a board of senior Officers Commanding.  The OOW is on the bridge of the ship and is responsible directly to the Captain for the safety of the ship.  No other officer can override him/her in this responsibility.)

Turning characteristics at 15 knots. Both rudders operating.

Rudder AngleAngle turned though in degrees90120150180
10Time of turning in minutes and seconds1:582:34.53:11.53:48.5
10Advance in yards664611419126
10Transfer in yards4567479731074
15Time of turning in minutes and seconds1:27.41:53.52:202:46
15Advance in yards522499385214
15Transfer in yards288471618687

Table 1

Unfortunately instead of using the standard tactical  rudder  of 15º,  the  OOW  ordered “Starboard ten.”

To understand why option 2 is considered more dangerous we have to look at how a ship turns at sea.   Depending on ship’s speed and amount of wheel used the size of the turning circle, known as ‘transfer’ which is much the same as what happens when you do a U-turn in a motor vehicle taking up the whole width of the road, and the time it takes to turn.  Both time to turn and  transfer are calculated for each ship during builder’s trials.

Unfortunately the PK’s Navigation Data Book went down with the ship. However the Navigation Data Book of PP has survived after her disposal and from the turning tables in it (Table 1 above) we can derive the turning circles (Diagram 2) of that ship at 15 knots and this can be accepted as being generally similar for all vessels of her class of ship.

This diagram shows clearly that  there  is a  considerable  difference  in  the ‘sideways’ transfer of the vessel for different degrees of wheel, in fact after turning through 180° if only 10º of rudder is used instead of 15º then this transfer increases by 387 yards (354 metres). It  also  shows that the time taken to turn through 180°  increases  from 2 minutes 46 seconds to 3 minutes 48.5 seconds, an increase of 62.5 seconds.  In 62.5 seconds the TFB would have moved about half a kilometre forward.  In the situation being discussed the effect of both these factors was to increase the chances of a collision in this situation.

In Diagram 3 we can compare the expected ship’s track for a 15° of wheel turn with the actual situation taken from the ship’s plots after the accident.

Diagram 3

The original intention was to follow the lighter  dashed line, and although this  would have meant that PK would indeed have passed very close (some would say dangerously so) down TFB port side, all things being equal it should have been possible to avoid a collision even if there was a need to increase the amount of wheel to maximum in the final stages.  In similar fashion if the 10° track had been left to be completed it would also have made it possible to avoid any pending collision once again simply by stopping the turn until the TFB was safely past. Regretfully instead of concentrating on the maneuver and ensuring that the ship was safe an altercation broke out between the PWO in the Ops Room and the OOW on the bridge in regard to how much wheel should be used.

The fact that such an altercation even occurred can be laid fairly and squarely at the apparent lack of proper command and control on the PK exacerbated  by  an extraordinarily  inept selection of the individuals on watch at the time.  All these factors were then further affected by the age of PK’s equipment and the fact that her high definition navigation radar was unserviceable; the plot therefore had to use the much less accurate search radar to compile the picture. On the navigation radar the sea clutter (1) would probably  only  have  extended  for  a couple of 100 metres at most, whereas on the search radar this sea clutter in the conditions that night extended about 1 700 metres from PK.  This meant that some two thirds of the way through the turn the Ops Room ‘lost’ TFB in this clutter and as a result had no concept of the disastrous situation that they were moving into.

After some final desperate but completely abortive manoeuvres shortly before the collision the PK crossed the TFB’s bow and was run down by her at 03:55.   The PK sank some 40 minutes later.   Out of a ship’s company of 199, sixteen men lost their lives that morning.

(1  Sea clutter.   Simply put, radar works by displaying a returning  ‘echo’ of transmitted radio waves that bounce off a target.   When the sea is rough the radar will also pick up ‘echoes’ from the waves.   Close to the ship these wave echoes are strong and too many to filter out, they then so flood the screen close to the ship they mask any echoes from nearby ships.  This is known as sea clutter and is less common and therefore less of a problem with modern digital radars.)

Board of Inquiry

Within a very short time after the accident a Naval Board of Inquiry was appointed and the whole incident came under investigation.   For some strange and unknown reason, although of  course  the  conspiracy  theorists  speculate on political interference, this Board failed to follow proper legal procedures.   The strange fact is that this occurred notwithstanding the fact that the President of this Board was a senior officer with previous experience of such boards and he also had legal support from a senior and very competent military lawyer.   The result of this poor administration was that at the later public Inquest on the death of Donald Webb (of those who died that night the only one whose body was recovered), the legality of the Board of Inquiry was called into question.   Witness testimonies were doubted on the basis that they had not been properly sworn in before giving evidence and written witness statements had not been properly sworn and certi ed in order to make them binding in any subsequent legal action.  These statements could thus not be fully utilised in the Inquest.

Nevertheless  extracts  were  placed  at  the disposal of the Tribunal for reference purposes even though “These extracts were not admitted in proof of the facts stated therein but questions on those facts were allowed and such questions and answers then became part of the inquest record.”

The   finding of the Board of Inquiry was that based on the   final manoeuvre, there was a ‘lack of seamanship’ displayed by the Captain and watch officers of the President Kruger.   In addition the Board also agreed that although the turn ‘inwards’ was not of itself an incorrect manoeuvre, in their opinion an ‘outward’ turn would have been a safer and thus a better maneuver in an exercise of this nature.

On 22 April 1982, the Minister of Defence (General M de M Malan) released the bald facts of the findings in Parliament, stating that “the sinking was the result of an injudicious manoeuvre, the non-maintenance of standards, bad  watchkeeping  and a lack  of  good seamanship.”  The statement regarding the non-maintenance of standards was ironic in that in 1977 it was Malan who had appointed the Board that  had recommended the disposal of these ships and Malan as CSADF who authorised the embargo on all future replacement of equipment on the President Class.

The announcement gave Opposition Members of Parliament and the press a field day, and all castigated the Navy.

It must be admitted that to some extent the Navy had brought negative opinion on itself as it had in fact handled the whole problem of the collision and sinking of PK very badly – once again the conspiracy theorists had a field day speculating on the reasons as to why this was so.

The Inquest

Out of the 16 men who lost their lives, the body of only one was ever recovered, that of CPO Donald Webb.

A very interesting legal/political twist now took over the story. The Minister of Justice at the time (Kobie Coetsee) wished to hold an Inquest into the death of Donald Webb.   The reasons why this was so were naturally once again grist to the
mill of the conspiracy theorists and as a result I personally have come across a number of variations on the reason why he called for this. However, at the time of the accident the Minister of Justice had no legal right to order an inquest into a death at sea as far off the South African coast as this had been.  It was necessary to introduce an amendment to the Inquest Act of 1959 in Parliament if such Inquest was to be ordered.  This became known as the Inquest Amendment Act 1983 and extended the distance out to sea over which South African Courts had jurisdiction.

The amendment when it was eventually promulgated was deemed to have come into effect retrospectively on 1 February 1982, that is, before the collision had occurred, and thus making an Inquest into the death of CPO Webb legal.

The Inquest (a Tribunal consisting of Mr C F W van Zyl, Chief Magistrate of Cape Town, with Mr L P Francis and Rear Admiral G N Green as Assessors) was to run for a full year, from 15 December 1982 until 14 December 1983, during which time the testimony and legal argument extended to six thousand pages. Eventually on the 7th February 1984, the Chief Magistrate of Cape Town, Mr van Zyl presented his summing up and findings taking two days to do so.

The Inquest found that:  “Webb’s death is causally linked to the collision and whatever caused  the collision is responsible for his death”.

The final finding of the Tribunal was:

(a)   Identity of deceased:         Donald Webb

(b)   Date of death:           18th February 1982

(c)  Cause or likely cause of death:  Drowning
(d) Whether the death was brought about by any act or omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of any person: The death was brought about by the negligence of Lieutenant P Smith and Captain W J de Lange and their negligence amounts to culpable homicide.

In my opinion this was a very terse and possibly incomplete  finding for the following reasons:

1. It gave no consideration to the ‘degree’ of culpability between the two officers named as is normal in an Admiralty Court investigating an accident at sea.  In my opinion the bulk of the evidence laid before the Tribunal clearly demonstrates that by far the greater blame rested with the Captain, the man on whose shoulders alone the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the ship rested.

2. No reference is made to the poor command and control situation that had existed on the PK nor the consequently strange selection of watch-keepers that night.  A situation that was very clearly, and may I say exhaustively discussed  in  the  evidence put before the Tribunal. To my mind the evidence led showed either an ignorance of the meaning of the very clear instructions in SANGP-11, or a general disregard for those instructions by most if not all the officers onboard.

To take the  second point first,  from  the evidence  given  there  seemed  to  have  been a  fallacious  belief  amongst  the  officers – including may I say it, the Captain himself – that the Captain could delegate his full command authority as well as the responsibility that goes with that authority to the PWO when he was not personally present in the Ops Room or on the bridge.

I suggest further that my opinion here is supported by the fact that the Public Prosecutor indicated that on the evidence led during the Inquest he would have great difficulty in proving any case against either of the two officers named and as a result he took no further action against them. Similarly the Navy seemed to believe that it was best to leave sleeping dogs alone and also took no further legal steps against any of the officers concerned. However the fact that the only action they took was to insist that the Captain took early retirement (with a good job at Armscor to soften the blow), does seem to indicate that although they would not admit it, the Navy was also of a similar opinion as to where the greater part of the culpability rested.

(1  SANGP-1.   General Regulations of the SA Navy in  which  the  various  rules/regulations  concerning command and control, the safety of SAN ships at sea and the authority and responsibilities of officers in critical posts are spelled out very clearly and concisely.)


Why did it happen

This  is  the  question  that  everyone  asks; we would all like to know what the causes of this accident were.   I would suggest that the best source of information on this question is the 388 pages of the Inquest Findings. From these pages a reader who has some training and knowledge of the General Regulations for the SA Navy (known as SANGP-1) as well as seagoing experience of his/her own to draw on, cannot avoid arriving at the conclusion that something was wrong with the command and control situation onboard PK at that time.
In my opinion the disaster was firstly the result of an apparent lack of normal structure in command and control onboard the PK and secondly is linked to the disastrous clash of personalities between the two Officers of the Watch on the Bridge as well as between both of them and the Principle Warfare Officer in the Ops Room. It seems incredible in retrospect that no thought at all seems to have been given to this in the selection of those who would stand watch that morning either by the Captain or by his senior watch-keepers.

Factors that point to a lack of structure in Command and Control.

1. Even though the Middle Watch was a period of very low intensity exercise, it was also a period during which the Captain was trying to catch up on his sleep. Logically therefore, notwithstanding the low intensity of the exercise one would expect at the very least to have an experienced Officer of the Watch on the bridge and preferably also an experienced PWO in the Ops Room. Strangely the exact opposite was the case.

a. The Officer of the Watch (OOW) on the bridge was the most inexperienced OOW onboard, and technically, as he had no formal Watch-keeping Certificate he was not qualified to fill this position. In fact he was standing his first ever watch as OOW on the PK.

b. Similarly the Principle Warfare Officer (PWO) in the Ops Room, although fully qualified, was still the least experienced PWO on the ship.

2. Notwithstanding the lack of experience of the officers concerned, no clear and concise ‘Night Orders’ were left by the Captain, as for example were found on both the PP and the TFB.

3. Notwithstanding the fact that the Captain of PK was the Senior Officer of the group and in Tactical  Command no instruction was given to wake him or even to simply keep  him  informed implying that any major maneuver was left at the discretion of either the PWO or the OOW.   This is a classic departure from the expected norm.

4. As pointed out in 1 above, although the officer  appointed as OOW was standing his first watch as OOW, he had never been interviewed by the Captain as required by SANGP-1 to determine his suitability to take a watch.   He had in fact found out that he was to stand a night watch on his own only  because his  name appeared on the OOW roster stating this.

5.  Finally  there  was  an  apparent  lack  of understanding by most, if not all, the officers, of the clear and implicit line of command in any SA Navy vessel and specifically of the authority of the OOW as dictated by SANGP-1.


The two Officers of the Watch

There were in fact two officers appointed for duty on the Bridge:

1.  An OOW, S/Lt Pickstock and a Second OOW (also un-certificated), S/Lt Meintjies.
2.   However  at  this  point  the ‘clash  of personalities’ I have mentioned earlier begins, although neither of these two officers had passed the OOW Board, Meintjies was not only the senior of the two in the rank of S/Lt but also did in fact have more experience than Pickstock.   He had recently returned from a six month secondment to the Chilean Navy and during that time had served on a Chilean Leander Class frigate – a modernised version of the same design of frigate as the PK.   If you are going to take the really terrible risk of letting all your experienced officers sleep whilst you appoint your most inexperienced and  unqualified  officers  as  OOW  for  the Middle  Watch,  then  surely  logic  would have dictated that the roles of Meintjies and Pickstock should have been reversed.
3.  At the Inquest although the Captain used the lack of certification of both the officers on the bridge in his own defence, in my opinion the mere fact that he approved Pickstock to stand as the OOW, implicitly indicates that in his opinion Pickstock was sufficiently qualified to do the job.   Regulation 02306, SANGP-1 as it was in 1982 stated: “The Captain is not to entrust the charge of the ship when under way to any officer, nor to any other person, unless he has satisfied himself that such officer or person is competent to take charge of the ship.” (My underlining)


Conflict with SANGP-1

SANGP-1 was at that time, and hopefully still is today, very clear on the line of command and therefore responsibility on any naval vessel. The duties of this officer were very clearly laid down in Regulation 12513(2) of SANGP-1

– General Regulations for the SA Navy [The following  extracts  from  SANGP-1  are  all taken from the Inquest Finding, however the underlining for emphasis in these quotes and other extracts from the Finding are mine]:

2 (a)  The Officer of the Watch at sea and in harbour is responsible for the safety of the ship in all its aspects, particularly her safety from collision or grounding, subject to any orders he may receive from the Captain.

(b) In whatever way the Captain may distribute the responsibilities for directing the weapons and Action Information Organisation among officers on watch at any time, only one officer is to have the responsibility for the safety of
the ship and he is to be known as the Officer of the Watch.

Regulation 02204 in SANGP-1 was also very clear about the ‘status’ of the OOW:

Every other officer and other person, not being  either  the  Executive  Officer  or  the Officer  Commanding  for  the  time  being is to be  subordinate to the Officer  of  the Watch whatever his rank, in regard to the performance of the duties with which the Officer of the Watch is charged.

The PWO on watch in the Ops Room is one of the appointments referred to in SANGP-1, Regulation 02513(2) quoted above, that is, he, or she, is the officer to whom “the responsibilities for directing the weapons and Action Information Organisation” is delegated by the Captain and is thus the officer responsible, in the absence of the Captain, for ‘fighting’ the ship until such time as the Captain arrives and takes over.   However he is not and never can be “the Captain for the time being” that is referred to in this regulation – excepting of course in a case where the Captain and the XO are both killed or otherwise totally incapacitated during an action at sea, in which case the senior surviving PWO would take over command.

A misunderstanding in this regard seems to have been the norm amongst most, if not all of the officers who stood watch as OOW and Second OOW on the President Kruger.  They all seemed to believe that the PWO stood between them and the Captain and was the ‘de facto captain’ when the Captain was neither on the Bridge nor in the Ops Room.

This  wrong  and  extremely  dangerous perception  on  their  part  is  brought  out  in the  evidence  given  by  a  number  of  these officers  under  oath  at  the  Inquest.

For example  Pickstock  states “Lieutenant  Smith was PWO.   Besides being PWO he was also OCS – Officer Commanding [sic] Serials and OTC Officer in Tactical Command.”

[OCS is  incorrectly  explained  here,  it  should  read Officer Conducting the Serial]   This cannot be so, only the Captain of a ship or a senior officer appointed in command of a group of ships at sea can be either the OCS or the OTC, and as in any other Command appointment, he can not under any circumstances delegate these appointments to anyone on his staff.   The PWO can only act under his instructions or orders.

Meintjies in his evidence supports this very dangerous  misunderstanding  when  he  states (my free translation from the Afrikaans and my underlining):  “As I remember it, Sub-Lieutenant Pickstock made a suggestion to the Ops Room, or asked permission from the Ops Room to turn to port.”   SANGP-1 is very clear on this, if the OOW believes that his ship is standing into any form of danger then he makes the decision, acts on it and then merely informs the Ops Room, he does not under any such circumstance ask permission from the PWO.


Equipment failure

Due in no small part to the ‘embargo’ on spending money on upgrading or replacing old equipment on the President Class frigates by General Malan in 1977, by 1982 the Navy was struggling to maintain operational effectiveness in these ships.  One of the ‘spin offs’ of this was that the high definition navigation radar on PK which gave a clear picture on the plotting table and had considerably less ‘sea clutter’ than the search radar, was not working.  The search radar thus had to be used for the plotting table from which the PWO was working giving a less clear picture and no picture at all within about 1800 meters.  This proved fatal when the TFB moved into the clutter and became obscured to the Ops Room at 1 800 yards (about 1 650 metres) so that in the  final minutes before the collision the PWO was ‘blind’.


The ‘conflict’ between Bridge and Ops Room

Personalities also contributed considerably to the problem.   Smith in the Ops Room was the  senior  officer  of  the  three;  he  was  also the training  officer  and ‘mentor’ of the two officers  on the bridge.    Smith had a strong personality and was self confident; in contrast the two officers on the bridge were young, very inexperienced and lacked self confidence at that time.  It was thus natural for them to bow down to any pressure placed on them by the PWO.
Finally as explained in the section  ‘Conflict with SANGP-1’ above, like most of the officers on the PK the two on the bridge had apparently not grasped the full implications of SANGP-1 1 instructions in regard to either the authority or the responsibilities of the OOW.

Thus when the PWO (Smith) realised that instead of using 15° of rudder as was the standard in changing station, the OOW (Pickstock) had ordered 10°, the two instead of concentrating on what the ship was doing got into a dispute over the command intercom as to how much wheel should be used.  By this time the TFB had moved into the wave clutter on the plotting table in PK’s Ops Room and Smith could no longer see what was happening.   The two officers on the bridge distracted by the dispute were no longer following the visual situation and realised too late that they were on a collision course.


The Navy Fails its People

The Navy now fell into the trap of trying to avoid any further bad publicity by only taking internal administrative action.  This they believed would allow them to fully  control those actions without any public participation.
As far as can ascertained the actions taken were:
1. The Captain was administratively retired early and the Navy arranged a job with Armscor for him.

2. The  PWO was sidelined to only shore appointments  and  had  his  promotion stopped.

The very negative result of this action was that the wound continued to fester within the Navy; everyone either already  had,  or  very soon developed, their own opinion on who was culpable.   This placed enormous psychological pressure on those involved who initially stayed in the Navy; regretfully the two young Officers of the Watch soon found themselves unable to take the strain of this pressure and ended what had been promising careers in the Navy by resigning.   The PWO stuck it out and has eventually managed against huge odds to make a reasonable career for himself in the Navy.

Even today, some 23 years later, I suggest that this wound in the Navy’s psyche has yet to fully heal.

In my opinion normal naval action, as well as good personnel practice, demanded that the Navy should have had the courage to face up to any possible negative aspects and institute properly constituted Court Martial proceedings against the two officers named in the Inquest finding as well as any other officers who might have been considered culpable in the light of the evidence given during that Inquest.  This would have had a number of positive outcomes no matter what negative or financial implications arose:

1.  The  finding  of  this  court  would  have brought closure and ended speculation on who was really responsible.

2.  Such a court would hopefully have clearly indicated the degree of culpability in any accused found guilty.

3.  All those so charged would have had a chance of equitable treatment by the Navy.

4.  Valuable lessons in command and control at sea would have been passed on to future Officers Commanding.


Rear Admiral Christopher Hart Bennett, SM, MMM, SA Navy, Retired

After matriculating from Kingswood College, Grahamstown, Chris Bennett joined the South African Navy and served for over 30 years at sea and ashore.  In 1964 he qualified as a Torpedo Anti Submarine specialist officer on the Royal Navy course at HMS Vernon and in 1978 successfully completed the SADF Joint Services Staff Course.  In the early 1970s he was Naval Attaché in London for three years and later served in Pretoria at both Naval Headquarters and Defence Headquarters in various staff posts.  He was promoted to a Rear Admiral in 1986 when he was appointed as Flag Officer Commanding of the newly established Naval Command West, returning to Pretoria after three successful years for his   final appointment as Chief of Naval Staff. Since his retirement he has written many articles and papers on maritime strategic matters affecting the South African Navy and is the author of a number of Naval Digests published by the Naval Heritage Trust of South Africa.  He is the author of ‘Three Frigates – The South African Navy comes of age’, a definitive history of the President Class frigates, ‘South African Naval Events Day-by-Day’ a diary of major naval events in the history of South Africa and coauthor of “South Africa’s Navy – A Navy of the People and for the People”.