SAS Amatola arrives home to big welcome

Nov 11, 2003
Author: P&S

The South African Navy corvette SAS Amatola (F145) arrived in Simonís Town last week (Tuesday, 4 November 2003) to an emotional welcome by family and friends of the officers and crew, as well as those from the Simonís Town Dockyard. Among those waiting on the quayside were four infants, born while their fathers were away in Germany preparing to bring the warship to South Africa. In a symbolic gesture, the excited mothers became the first people in South Africa to go on board.

That first visit was followed the next day by a large group of journalists from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth, flown to the naval base on board a C130 from Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria. They were there to report on a ship that has been at the centre of much political controversy ever since the arms procurement bill was announced.

Whatever the merits of the arms purchase and the scandal that has broken out over the methodology and decision-making involved in acquiring four corvettes, three submarines and a considerable number of jet aircraft, no-one at Simonís Town last week could fail to have been anything but impressed with what was on display.

Journalists were taken to sea either on board Amatola or on an accompanying strike craft, SAS Isaac Dyobha, which was provided for photographic opportunities from a vantage point. At sea in False Bay the new ship was put through her paces, including tight manoeuvring and several crash stops from a speed of 29 knots to full stop in 290 metres. Those on board described the ship as comfortable to ride on. Others on the strike craft were not so lucky!

SAS Amatola is large Ė much more so than one would expect of a corvette, which understandingly raises the question as to whether all pretence should be dropped and the class of ships referred to in future as frigates, for that is what they are. The ship is certainly larger than anything the navy has ever had in its fighting inventory and well exceeds even the former President class frigates in length, beam and displacement. When alongside on the berth the ship simply towers over those standing alongside.

But despite her size, the stealth properties built into the shipís design make her difficult to detect by electronic means Ė apparently on her delivery voyage radio messages warning that SAS Amatola was in the vicinity were necessary whenever another ship was in the area, as she remained all but invisible.

Some of this may change slightly, as the ship that arrived in Simonís Town was devoid of all weaponry, which will be fitted locally over the next 12 months. These weapons include a 76mm gun, adapted from those successfully in use on the navyís strike craft; two 20mm Oerlikon cannons; a twin 35mm gun; Exocet surface to surface missile launchers; Umkhonto anti-aircraft missiles; rocket decoy launchers and torpedo launchers. Sea Lynx helicopters flown by the SA Air Force have now been approved and will later add to the shipís fighting capability.

Internally the shipís vital spaces are well armoured and the ship includes biological and chemical decontamination facilities. Accommodation is luxurious and spacious by comparison with former fighting ships of the navy and those who serve on this class will be the envy of the SAN for this reason alone.

The shipís hull is divided into a series of watertight compartments. Electric power comes from four diesel generator sets in two separate compartments feeding two separately positioned main switchboards. Distribution throughout the ship is on a 24V DC system with emergency batteries for supplying control systems and emergency lighting. Three dedicated high-capacity salvage pumps and eight salvage eductors are provided and the ship has a sub-divisible fire main supply with eight fire pumps to deal with any fire on board.

The outer upper hull, designed in the form of an X, helps deflect and maintain very low radar, infrared, acoustic and magnetic signatures.

Amatola incorporates a unique (for warships of this nature) propulsion system consisting of the so-called CODAG-WARP propulsion system (combined diesel and gas turbine - waterjet and refined propellers), made up of two 5,920kW diesel engines driving twin shafts fitted with controllable pitch propellers, while the gas turbine engine powers the centrally mounted waterjet whose outlet nozzle is situated on the stern just below the exhaust vent.

The exhaust vent is in keeping with the shipís stealth capabilities and the ship carries no external vertical funnel - all exhaust being vented horizontally at the stern, right above the waterjet nozzle.

The shipís performance rating is good Ė top speed is officially listed as 30 knots. Economic cruising speed is around 18 knots on a single engine and 23 knots on two. Her range at 16 knots is approximately 8,000 nautical miles and the ship carries sufficient stores for 28 days at sea. Amatola has a displacement of 3,600 tonnes, is 121m in length overall (107.3m on waterline), has a beam of 16m and a draught of 5.95m.

Officers and crew, including flight crew for the helicopter, number 117 but the ship has spare berths for an additional 25 persons. If called on to render humanitarian assistance, as may become necessary in the African regional context, SAS Amatola can lift up to 600 refugees.

With the arrival of this ship South Africa now has the nucleus of a navy with genuine deep-sea fighting ability, and can once again take its place with pride whenever the opportunity presents itself to sail among its peers.

SAS Amatola (F145) will be fully operational in October 2005, followed by SAS Isandlwana (F146) in December 2005, SAS Spioenkop (F147) in March 2006 and the final corvette, F148 in May 2006. The other three ships are due in South Africa during 2004.

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