Amatola working her way to England and the Mendi centenary commemoration
Since leaving her home port of Simon’s Town in mid-January, the SA Navy Valour Class frigate SAS Amatola (F145) en route to the English Channel has very much been a working ship. The transit will see Amatola in the English Channel on 21 February at the site on the SS Mendi’s sinking to commemorate the centenary of the worst loss of lives in South African defence related incident ever. The frigate is taking part in various other taskings as part of Operation Ketane (chain) during the three month deployment. These include operational sea training, operations, exercises and diplomatic activities with other navies. Apart from regular daily and nightly duties the ship’s company have also to date been part of a border protection and anti-piracy patrol along the African content’s west coast. Under the command of Captain Frans Roux this saw Amatola patrol the sea to the Orange River mouth from her home port at a distance of 12 nautical miles from shore. In addition to controlling and preventing the illegal movement of people and goods the patrol was also tasked with reporting suspicious activity as regards illegal utilisation of marine resources.
The primary focus of the tasking was intelligence gathering and reporting without delaying passage to Europe. The frigate’s programme changed from border protection to damage control when she was off the Namibian coast under the guidance of German naval experts representing that country’s SAGA (Schadeusabwehr-gejechtsusildung). Damage control, medical and boarding training were practiced. This is to be part and parcel of ship’s routine until arrival in Spain. The importance of damage control and other specialist training was emphasised to the ship’s company by a SAGA team member. He said: “Training personnel is as important as the equipment. You can have the best and state-of-the-art equipment but well-trained people are needed to deliver sustained and forceful fighting capabilities”.
Aspects the SAGA team focussed on included basic and advanced firefighting skills, first aid and damage repair. Battle organisation, including information flow between different levels of command, as well as decision making are also part of the work. Following an R&R period in Spain after the SAGA training, Amatola will refuel and replenish before departing for Plymouth in the United Kingdom where she will be part of British Operational Sea Training (BOST). On completion of this part of the voyage’s tasking Amatola proceeds to Portsmouth for the SS Mendi sinking commemoration – “the highlight and priority of the deployment” according to Roux.