Navy ships undergo change of command as other shortages bite

Dec 10, 2007
Author: P&S

Amidst reports that the South African Navy is suffering from an acute shortage of trained and qualified personnel, particularly in the submarine service, several changes of command of surface ships have taken place in the last week or so.

The frigate SAS AMATOLA (F145) has a new officer commanding – he is Commander Michael Girsa who was appointed OC of the ship at a Change of Command ceremony at Simon’s Town last Tuesday (4 December), taking over command of the country’s first Valour class ship from Captain DG Jamieson who had been appointed to the ship as Delivery Captain in 2003, later bringing her out from Germany.

Cdr Girsa joined the navy as a rating in 1983 and has since risen through the ranks before completing the SAN senior command and staff programme while serving on the third new frigate, SAS SPIOENKOP. Before that he served as executive officer on board the Amatola.

The following day Cdr George de Voogt handed over command of the anti mine measure vessel SAS UMHLOTI to Lt Cdr Khwaedi Lotta Mabula. Cdr de Voogt had been in command of the Umhloti since 2005 – he joined the Mine Counter Measures Flotilla after completing his basic training as a junior rating before going on an Officers Course at Naval College.

Lt Cdr Mabula comes from Limpopo Province and is a former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) activist who was integrated into the navy post 1994. He completed Military Officers’ Training in 1999 before completing the Combat Officers’ Course Qualifying Part 1. In 2001 he was promoted from Ensign to Sub Lieutenant and then completed Combat Officers Course Qualifying Part 2. In 2005 he was Acting First Lieutenant on SAS UMKOMAAS for six months and was then appointed First Lieutenant of SAS UMHLOTI in July that year. He also obtained his Mine Hunter Endorsement in 2005 and completed Command detachment training on SAS Umhloti in early 2007.

The full CV’s of these officers can be found at

Reports of a shortage of skilled personnel within the navy have been circulating for some considerable time, with strenuous denials by the navy. On one occasion the navy went so far as to fly media to Simon’s Town in an effort of convincing the public that the situation wasn’t quite so bad.

Among the reports are suggestions that the SAN lacks sufficient crew to maintain more than one submarine at sea at any time (the navy has recently acquired three diesel submarines from Germany, of which one has still to be delivered). PORTS & SHIPS was told by a senior serving officer that these reports are basically true and he gave some credence to reports that one or two submarines may have to be mothballed.

About a year ago the SAN introduced incentive schemes to attract technical and combat staff into the service but this has apparently not been altogether successful. More recently the navy went on a recruitment campaign to attract divers to the service, which according to some reports met with some success.

At the same time the navy has successfully put the new frigates to good use, participating with other navies and also making protracted visits as far afield as the UK and South America. Similarly the navy has acquitted itself well in exercises with various other navies.

One of the reasons for a shortage of trained and experienced personnel can be put down to remuneration, with private industry able to entice away trained personnel at will – but it can’t help when the navy boasts of helping to train people who can then move into outside industry.

Another reason for the loss of personnel is that of transformation within the navy, in which white officers believe their own ambitions towards promotion and command are now limited. How the navy will manage these challenges in the future will determine how it will continue manning its ships.

In November a navy spokesman told a Cape Town newspaper that the navy had embarked on a recruitment drive that was focusing on the technical and artisan fields of the navy. He claimed that SAN was managing the shortage of skills satisfactorily.

The problem facing the SAN is not unique and budget cuts have seen even the chief of the Royal Navy issuing warnings recently that further staff cuts could result in that navy, with its long and proud history becoming unable to perform all its given duties.

Perhaps the South African Navy needs to cast a wider net in its search for trained personnel and others that can be trained. With all the talk of South Africa assuming a regional role in naval affairs – perhaps it’s time to encourage personnel with suitable abilities from neighbouring states.



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