Month: December 2010

Africa gets its first 4G wireless network

Africa’s first 4G wireless network has been set up in Cameroon by a Swiss company.

Swiss company 4G Africa AG announced yesterday that it will deploy the first Mobile WiMAX network in Cameroon.

The deployment in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé, two of Cameroon’s largest metropolitan areas with a total population 5 million people, will provide coverage using Alvarion’s end-to-end Mobile WiMAX 4Motion solution at the 2.5 GHz frequency band.

4G Africa has chosen Alvarion, a global provider of 4G networks in the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) market, for this deployment, which is expected to provide connectivity to over 10,000 users within the first year.

4G WiMAX presents an ideal business case for enabling mobile broadband to mass consumers. By building a network based on Alvarion’s leading platform, 4G Africa can cost-effectively offer a wide range of data services to consumers in Cameroon.

Dov Bar-Gera, CEO, 4G Africa, said: “4G Africa is focused on establishing WiMAX networks in emerging Sub-Saharan countries, such as Cameroon with the overall aim to reduce the digital divide.

“Leveraging Alvarion’s technology and expertise allows us to provide a high-performance quality network, offering valuable broadband services to the residents in this market.”

He added: “We are excited to work with Alvarion on the first 4G network deployment in Cameroon and introduce a new era of communications to the residents of Douala and Yaoundé.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is considered to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies, yet lacks the proper infrastructure. We recognise the impressive track record Alvarion holds in Africa in regard to providing operators excellent WiMAX solutions and early deployment capabilities.

Eran Gorev, president and CEO, Alvarion, said: “Bringing Mobile WiMAX services to Cameroon will enable 4G Africa to provide residents with the benefits of a complete wireless broadband experience.

“Our advanced technology will provide complete network connectivity and allow 4G Africa to be one step closer to their goal of reducing the digital divide in Sub-Sahara Africa.”

Based in Zurich, 4G Africa was founded by a team of telecom entrepreneurs who were actively involved in emerging markets for the last decade.

4G Africa aspires to provide affordable, reliable and state-of-the-art broadband wireless internet access services in chosen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, in order to help close the digital divide. In 2011 the company will start offering wireless and different value added services in Cameroon.

The reality is every major carrier in the country is going to move to 4G at some point in time. While the mobile phone market was maturing it was all about the voice network. Carriers competed on coverage, voice quality, network reliability etc.

Those battles will still exist however the value is moving from the voice network to the data network. This is because of the rise of smart phones and smart devices where data becomes a more central part of the device experience.

The battlefield going forward will be which carriers have the fastest data network and that is where LTE comes into play. 3G networks had a fundamental problem and it wasn’t the speed. 3G networks were built for faster data but failed at handling a lot of concurrent consumers consuming data per network node. In essence if a lot of people in a particular city or area were on the 3G data network at the same time the network slowed down drastically.

4g looks to solve this problem by not only being faster with download speeds ranging from 6-12 MBS realistically but also to handle more data consumers per network node. This is the part that is a big deal. If it proves true then the carriers will start being more aggressive with their pricing for data plans. They will want to recoup those costs of the new network and since data is where the new value is I expect very aggressive data plans as the networks get established.

These faster data networks will be key to future consumer experiences with mobile devices. Sharing video, capturing and sharing live video, multiple party video conferencing, playing multiplayer graphically rich games in real time, etc all require faster bandwidth and networks that can handle millions of people consuming that data at the same time. The Qik application for iPhone and Android, for example demonstrates all the things that 4G will make better.

This move is good news for consumers and for the industry. Faster data speeds add value to the innovations we want to crank out over the next few years. Having cheaper access to these faster data networks lowers the barrier for consumers to begin using these new innovations.
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Africa cellphone market to surpass 500 million users

Africa will soon pass 500 million cellphone users by the end of this year.

The African mobile market exceeded half a billion subscribers during the third quarter of this year, hitting about 506 million at the end of September, according to a research from AfricaCom DailyNews.

The research which was conducted by Informa Telecoms and Media, one of the orgernisers of the ongoing AfricaCom conference in Cape Town, South Africa, said the milestone coincided with the 25th anniversary of mobile telephony in African continent; the first African mobile network went live in 1985 in Tunisia.

LEADERSHIP gathered at the conference that at the end of the first quarter of this year, GSM subscribers in the continent accounted for 10 pre cent of the global subscriber base, with penetration still very low, though it increased by 18 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

It was also gathered that GSM penetration rate in Africa stood at 48.35 per cent at the end of September, and some African markets have since passed saturation point.

“But penetration in other markets is still less than five per cent, and penetration below ten per cent is typical for rural areas,” AfricaCom Daily News reported.

According to the report, over the five years, the strongest growth rates in mobile subscription are expected to be recorded mainly in East and Central African markets, adding that Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Madagascar are expected to witness increase by more than 100 per cent in 2015.

“Although, the rate of growth in mobile subscription in Africa will be slow as markets mature, the continent continues to offer great opportunities for investors in the voice segment in under penetrated market and also in the non-voice segment with mobile broadband and mobile money services taking off,” said Thecla Mbongue, Johannesburg-based senior analyst at Informa and Telecom Media.

According to findings, the landing of a series of new submarine cables on both the East and West coasts of Africa over the past 18 months has given the continent a good level of international connectivity for the first time, and has greatly expanded the opportunities for data services.

It further stated that an increase in data services would cause a bottleneck in terrestrial backhaul networks and that these networks needed to improve if connectivity was going to be made available to more African, particularly those in the rural rears.

” By 2015, there will be 265 million mobile broadband subscription in Africa, a huge increase from the current figure of about 12 million and accounting for 31.5 per cent of the total of 842 million mobile subscriptions that the continent will have in five years’ time Mbongue said, adding: “There will be almost 360 million users of mobile-money services on the continent by 2014.”

The research further showed that with household broadband in penetration in Africa at just 2.5 per cent, the opportunities for mobile data access services on the continent are significant.

Cellular networks offer a number of advantages over alternative solutions:

  • increased capacity
  • reduced power use
  • larger coverage area
  • reduced interference from other signals

With such a huge growing market, the demand will be there for investments by local and foreign firms, which is a great jobs opportunity especially in Africa’s technology and telecommunications sector.  I’m sure investors will be getting the message loud and clear about the unique opportunity that this situation presents to them, both in the medium and long term.

Africa’s total mobile phone connections versus market penetration

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Equatorial Guinea seeks to buy 3 corvettes from South Korea

A South Korean Pohang-class corvette (ROKS Gyeongju, PCC-758).

Equatorial Guinea is in talks with South Korea to buy 3 corvettes worth $90 million.

The government of the Middle African country of Equatorial Guinea is reportedly in negotiations for the purchase of warships from the Republic of Korea. The South Korean news agency, Yonhap, recently quoted a South Korean official who confirmed Equatorial Guinea’s interest in buying three corvettes at an estimated price of $90 million (100 billion won).

According to Yonhap, negotiations began after Equatorial Guinea’s President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, met his counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, in mid-August 2010 during a visit to Seoul. Park Young-june, a vice minister in South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy, told the press agency that Obiang informed Lee about Equatorial Guinea’s plans to improve its national security by purchasing warships from abroad.

However, no further details about the possible purchase, including the specific type of vessels to be procured, have yet been provided. Considering the financial means of the small African country, despite prosperous prospects due to the discovery of significant petroleum reserves, it is not probable that Equatorial Guinea would acquire newly-built vessels. In recent years, Equatorial Guinea’s defence budget has been 0.1 per cent of its GDP ($10.413 billion; 2009 estimate).

As the two countries vowed to increase co-operation in the fields of petroleum and liquefied natural gas (LNG), it is likely that any agreement will include the export of resources to South Korea, which has few natural resources and needs to meet the requirements of its constantly growing population and thriving industry.

Despite South Korea’s strong shipbuilding industry, it can be assumed that Equatorial Guinea would purchase surplus vessels from the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy. South Korea operates a considerable fleet of corvettes and patrol vessels, in light of its ongoing state of war with North Korea.

If Equatorial Guinea is set to purchase corvettes, as the Yonhap report suggests, these could be Pohang-class or Donghae-class vessels currently operated by the ROK Navy. The latter has been in service with the ROK Navy since 1983. Only one of the original four ships remains in service; the other three ships were decommissioned in June 2010 and are now only available for use in support of naval exercises.

However, it has not been confirmed whether Equatorial Guinea would buy the three decommissioned ships or slightly newer Pohang-class corvettes, of which 24 have been built since 1984. To date, only one corvette of this class has been decommissioned. This class of ship also attained sad attention when the Cheonan was lost in the Yellow Sea on 26 March 2010. South Korea has accused North Korea of sinking the Cheonan in a torpedo attack during its patrol near the disputed sea border. Forty-six sailors died in this incident, while 58 survived out of a crew of 104.

Equatorial Guinea’s fleet consists of few ageing patrol vessels of different origin, including a Dutch-built P-20 patrol craft which was donated by Nigeria, as well as two Chinese-built Shantou-class vessels. In 2008, the Equatorial Guinean Navy consisted of 120 sailors.

The 8-member Gulf of Guinea Commission (consisting of Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome and Principe) decided several years ago to set up a joint Gulf of Guinea Guard Force (GGGF) to ensure security within the Middle African gulf region, in particular of the valuable offshore oil facilities. However, planning and negotiations between the African countries has progressed slowly, despite Nigeria’s call for a quick implementation of the force, fearing further attacks by rebel groups on its oil facilities. The Commission has also requested the help of the US in setting up and training the guard force.

Equatorial Guinea has a strategically important position in the Gulf of Guinea, with the country basically being split into a continental region and the Bioko Island, with the country’s capital of Malabo. The island is located in the Bight of Biafra, some 200 kilometres east of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger delta.

Portuguese-language reports in July suggested Equatorial Guinea was to purchase a Barroso-class corvette from Brazil. The reported deal follows a visit to the authoritarian former Spanish colony by Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The defensa.com website reports initial discussions apparently started in February 2010. A memorandum of understanding for that acquisition was reportedly signed July 6 with Emgepron, “a private company linked to the Ministry of Defence through the General Staff of the Brazilian Navy.”

Emgepron also built a 46.5 metre patrol vessel, the Brendan Simbwaye, for the Namibian navy. The defensa.com continues the final contract “should be signed” at the Euronavale 2010 exhibition, to be held in October at Le Bourget outside Paris, France. It is not clear if this happened.

Janes Defence Weekly reported somewhat differently that same month, saying that a letter of intent was signed in 2006. It expected the contract to be signed next year and the Grupo Synergy-owned EISA yard to build a modified Barroso design with a lower displacement than the 2350-ton ship in Brazilian service. It adds the new variant will feature a CODLAG (combined diesel-electric and gas) propulsion plant with MTU diesel engines and a reduced armament: instead of a Vickers 4.5-inch (114.3 mm) Mk 8 main gun, the vessel will be equipped with an Oto Melara Super Rapid 76 mm gun. The Exocet anti-ship missiles will also be left out, but the ship will retain a Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft cannon “as well as the ability to operate a light to medium helicopter.” The vessel would reportedly be fitted with a Siconta Mk III tactical control system, a TTI (Terminal Tático Inteligente) tactical information system, an ET/SLQ-2X electronic countermeasures and an ET/SLR-1X electronic support measures system.

As a new African oil power with a Gross Domestic Product of US$15.7 billion in 2008, Equatorial Guinea can arguably afford such a ship, but its ability to operate or maintain it is highly suspect. The authoritative Military Balance annual of the International Institute for Strategic Studies put the size of the nation’s navy at just 120 in 2009. Its air force musters 100 and its army 1100. The navy, based at Bata on Malabo Island is listed as owning two inshore patrol craft, one larger patrol vessel as well as two river patrol boats. The Guardia Civil also owns an inshore patrol vessel. The operational status of these vessels are unknown but is unlikely to be high, even though the country seemingly spends a considerable amount on defence, an estimated US8.4 billion in 2007.

However, corruption and political repression is said to be rife in the 616 000-strong nation, with most people living in extreme poverty. The US Center for Public Integrity on a November 2002 report said “oil companies do not view Equatorial Guinea’s military – a product of decades of brutal dictatorial rule – with much confidence… Seven of the army’s nine generals are relatives of the president [who took power in 1979 after deposing and executing his uncle]; the other two are from his tribe. There is no clear command structure, the level of discipline is low, and professionalism and training are almost non-existent, according to locals and foreign oil workers. Even the presidential guard – an indication of the lack of trust in the country’s forces – is composed of 350 Moroccan troops.” The IISS does not list the Moroccans.

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Ghana officially begins production from Jubilee Oil field

Ghana officially began oil production on December 15th when the president, John Atta Mills, opened the valves in a televised ceremony at a floating platform some 60 km off the Atlantic coast. The Jubilee oil field, operated by UK-registered Tullow Oil, is initially expected to produce 55,000 barrels/day, with output set to rise to 120,000 b/d over the next six months as more wells come into production. The long-anticipated start to commercial production is a significant moment in Ghana’s history.

Joy Business has learnt that President Mills will this Wednesday officially christen Ghana’s crude oil, Jubilee Oil.  Though production has been ongoing for some time now the day has been chosen as the official date for the programme of activities lined up to celebrate the pouring of first oil.

Energy Ministry officials explain that after months of deliberations over the many names that came up, the partners involved in the project for the country’s first oil in commercial quantities settled on Jubilee Oil. But what’s in the name?

Public Affairs Director at the Ministry, Edward Bawa explained that marketing the product is crucial and the name is central to marketing.

“The Jubilee Field being a world class oil field, has a name you can easily identify with and therefore to associate the oil with the field in itself, will make it easy in terms of marketability because at the end of the day we want to be sure that in the oil market, people – when they see a particular crude – can easily say this crude is from Ghana,” he said.

Ghana’s Jubilee Oil compares to Bonny Light from Nigeria, Iran Heavy, Basra Light from Iraq, Kuwait Export or Brent Crude from the North Sea.

Domestically, the government will have to manage expectations carefully. Many Ghanaians perceive the beginning of oil production as an end to the country’s poverty, but the reality is much less exciting, as data suggest that revenues from oil in 2011 will account for less than 6% of the government’s budget. Oil revenues will not, therefore, be an easy solution to the country’s financial challenges.

There are also concerns about the management of oil revenues, and Ghana’s ability to avoid the mistakes of other West African producers–concerns highlighted by the failure of the country’s parliament to agree a final version of the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill. The bill has been a major focus for both national and international observers, and while the failure to pass it prior to the start-up of production will not have a particularly substantial practical impact–provided the bill is passed fairly soon there­after–the symbolic effect is significant. Despite having years to prepare, wide-ranging consultation processes, technical assistance from donors and a public mandate to do so, the government was unable to pass this very important piece of legislation. This failure will worry international donors and civil society organizations that fear the worst for Ghana’s oil-rich future.

Concerns are unlikely to have been ameliorated by parliament’s decision to approve the collateralization of the country’s oil revenues for use in contracting external loans. The decision–which means that 70% of oil revenues can be used as collateral for borrowing while the remaining 30% will go into an Oil Heritage Fund–necessitated an amendment to the clause in the draft Petroleum Revenue Management Bill that prohibits the use of oil revenues as collateral for loans, and is unlikely to be well received by donors and the IMF. The government has argued that it is necessary to use future oil revenues to secure the loans needed to support its ambitious capital and social development programs. However, while there is little doubt that the move will grant greater access to external borrowing for the country, many are questioning Accra’s rationale for needing to collateralize oil revenues given current investor interest in Ghana’s sovereign bond and expected appetite for another in the future.

Certainly, the history of using oil revenues to secure borrowing does not bode well for Ghana, as oil producers such as Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo (Brazzaville) have all failed to utilize the borrowing to support development and use the money to invest in areas that generate sufficient returns, either socially or financially. Given the concern over Ghana’s use of the US$750m raised through its issuing of a Eurobond in 2007, there is reasonable cause for concern that the country risks saddling itself with substantial extra debt with little to show for it when the oil eventually runs out. With power in Ghana often swapping between the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party, there would also be a worrying incentive for each party to leverage borrowing as much as possible during their limited time in office for schemes–likely to be rushed or poorly planned–designed to win them the ongoing support of the electorate. The possibilities for corruption also increase as there is more money making its way through the system.

Crucially, the approval of collateralizing oil should serves as a warning. The failure to pass the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill and create a regulatory agency separate from the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation underscores the fact that, for the time being at least, all talk of Ghana being “different” from other West African oil producers is just that.

Here is video of the President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills launching the delivery of the country’s first oil allowing it to join the ranks of the worlds’ oil producers

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PLA navy gets tough, repels pirates with grenades, bullets

China’s Navy has shown some muscle while on patrol in the Gulf of Aden on the lookout for Pirates.

The PLA navy has displayed a fresh appetite to confront pirates plaguing vital sea lanes off the Horn of Africa, breaking up recent attacks on shipping with stun grenades and machine-gun fire.

PLA commanders appear determined to showcase the potential of the large amphibious assault ship Kunlunshan just as monsoonal calms spark fresh attacks by Somali pirates on ships plying the Indian Ocean trade routes linking Asia to Europe and the Middle East.

State media reports and CCTV military broadcasts have highlighted an incident on August 28 when three waves of fast-moving pirate skiffs attempted to attack a convoy of 21 commercial ships under PLA escort.

The incident comes in a high-profile week for China’s rapidly modernising navy, with ships fresh from unprecedented exercises in the Mediterranean sailing up the Irrawaddy River to stop in Yangon, Myanmar, while another crossed the Coral Sea to visit Vanuatu and Tonga as part of a Pacific tour.

Helicopters launched from the 17,600-tonne Kunlunshan and the destroyer Lanzhou helped repel the pirate skiffs, with marines firing stun grenades and heavy machine guns to warn off the pirates, who later fled the area.

At one point a skiff came within less than a nautical mile of the freighter Haijie, the PLA Daily reported, but was chased off. Special operations troops were then placed aboard the slow-moving ship for extra protection.

Just as it marked new tactics from the pirates, who attacked the convoy at several different points in a battle that lasted more than 30 minutes, it also revealed higher levels of organisation and co-ordination from the PLA.

While the incident was not witnessed by foreign navies, PLA officials have outlined the incident to their international counterparts in the anti-piracy fight.

“From everything we can tell, it was a very successful operation,” said one Asian naval official monitoring China’s anti-piracy effort. “They seem more highly organised and eager to intervene… There was no panic. The pirates were persistent but driven off without loss of life.”

Gary Li, a PLA analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the sailors involved “seemed much more co-ordinated and cool-headed than before … and certainly prepared to use force to ward off attacks”. “They seem determined to use the Kunlunshan to its best advantage,” he said.

The Kunlunshan is one of the most closely watched of China’s new warships. The 200-metre ship is the only one of its kind in the PLA fleet and believed to be central to any plan to invade Taiwan, able to carry large helicopters, fast patrol vessels and even hovercraft.

Its appearance off the Horn of Africa comes ahead of the first anniversary later this month of the successful hijacking of a Chinese coal carrier.

The De Xin Hai was boarded by pirates as it sailed from South Africa to India and held at a stronghold on the Somali coast for more than two months pending the settlement of a ransom.

So far, it is the only Chinese ship captured since the PLA joined international anti-piracy efforts in December 2008 – the first time Chinese warships have entered a potential conflict zone outside home waters in six centuries.

While the PLA continues to escort convoys of ships mainly from greater China, including Hong Kong, it has yet to join international patrols of a special transit zone in the Gulf of Aden.

Such a move would force even closer co-operation with a range of international navies under American and European leadership and would pave the way for China to jointly chair co-ordinating sessions – another first for a once-insular PLA.

China has offered to head up the sessions but PLA officials have told their counterparts that they are still waiting for political approval from Beijing before pushing ahead with the plan.

Russia and India, eyeing a suddenly expanded PLA role in a highly strategic area, are also pushing for greater involvement.

“We are in uncharted waters in terms of co-operation at this point,” a European naval officer said. “These are fresh relationships and everybody is still feeling their way… everybody is trying to be very patient.”

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Egypt to Receive C-130H Simulator for Egyptian Airforce

A view at the cockpit of a C-130H full-mission simulator.

The United States has agreed to sale Egypt a C-130H Simulator for the Egyptian Airforce.

CAE announced today it has won a United States Air Force contract to design and manufacture a C-130H full-mission simulator for the Egyptian Air Force. The contract was awarded to CAE USA under the United States foreign military sale (FMS) program. The value of the contract was included in the CAE press release dated June 16, 2010 as a sale to an undisclosed customer [On 16 June, CAE announced several military contracts with a total value exceeding C$100 million which included manufacturing a new C-130H simulator for an undisclosed customer. However, no further

C-130H

contract details, including the individual contract value, were stated in the press release.The C-130H full-mission simulator for the Egyptian Air Force will be delivered to Cairo, Egypt during 2013. The simulator will feature the CAE True electric motion system as well as CAE’s latest generation visual solution, including a 210 degree by 50 degree display system and CAE MedallionTM-6000 image generator.

“This foreign military sale for the Egyptian Air Force once again demonstrates CAE’s global leadership and reputation for developing world-class training systems to support the C-130 Hercules aircraft,” said John Lenyo, president and general manager, CAE USA. “Over the past two decades, CAE has delivered more training systems for the C-130 than any company and we are pleased the Egyptian Air Force specified CAE for the provision of a new C-130H full-mission simulator.”

The U.S is Egypt’s biggest arms saler and also gives$1.3 billion in military aid yearly. Here is video simulation of the simulator.

Video footage of C-130H in action

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South Africa’s Submarines to receive new batteries

South African Navy Submarine SAS 'Manthatisi

South Africa’s Navy is to receive new batteries for its Submarines.

South Africa’s fleet of three Heroine-class Type 209 diesel-electric attack submarines are to receive new batteries as part of their “first minor overhaul”, the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans says in two answers to Parliamentary questions.

The battery consists of 480 man-sized cells and weighs 250 metric tons, according to a South African Navy briefing to Parliament last month. Navy Chief Director Maritime Strategy Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg at the same briefing said a battery costs R35 million. He also described the overhaul as “major”.

“In order to ensure that the SAS Manthatisi (S101) will be operational for a period of at least eight years on completion of the first minor overhaul, the SA Navy will procure a new battery for the submarine,” the ministry says in answer to a Parliamentary question by Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald. “Each submarine will, in turn, be fitted with a new battery on completion of their respective minor overhauls.”

Another answer notes the Manthatisi is “presently in reserve, and has been so since October 2007. The submarine is being prepared to become the first Type 209 Submarine to be overhauled in Simon’s Town Naval Dockyard,” the answer continues. “The SAS Manthatisi will be undergoing an overhaul in accordance with the laid down schedules for this type of submarine. The scope of work for the overhaul of SAS Manthatisi is currently being determined.”

The Manthatisi is the lead-boat of class of three submarines acquired for R8.1 billion as part of Project Wills,a component of the controversial Strategic Defence Package. She was laid down at Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Thyssen Nordsee Werke, Kiel on May 22, 2001, was launched June 15, 2004 and commissioned November 3, 2005. It arrived in South African waters in April 2006. Her sisters were both commissioned March 14, 2007. The Charlotte Maxeke arrived in South African waters in April 2007 and SAS Queen Modjadji I in May 2008.

In answer to Groenewald’s question as to whether the repairs might be done in Germany, where they had been built, the ministry said the Navy was “not giving consideration to sending the submarine to Germany for repairs. The requisite capabilities are being sourced and developed locally, and these capabilities will form the foundation for not only the maintenance of SAS Manthatisi but also the subsequent overhaul of SAS Charlotte Maxeke and SAS Queen Modjadji I, as scheduled in the SA Navy Maintenance and Upkeep Plan for the Medium to Long Term Expenditure Framework.”

The ministry insists in the first answer “the majority of this overhaul consists of routine maintenance and replacement of parts as opposed to repairs. Very little known repair work is required on the SAS Manthatisi. It will be the first submarine to undergo this process. Many elements of this process are unknown and infrastructure and training will need to be established in order to create a submarine overhaul capability in country. It is envisaged that the process will be complete by mid to late 2012.” Teuteberg last month said the Manthatisi wa expected to return to service in 2013.

“The Navy is currently in the process of establishing a list of maintenance to be completed during the minor overhaul. This list is termed the ‘Scope of Work’. Once the Scope of Work has been established, the spares requirement will be known and will be the major factor in establishing the cost for the overhaul,” the ministry added.

The Business Day a month ago the boat’s extended spell on the “hard” has variously been described as routine battery maintenance or the result of a minor encounter with the quay causing damage to the aft dive plane. Experts and opposition MPs have suggested that there is something more seriously wrong with the submarine.

Teuteberg told the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans that there were three issues involving the Manthatisi. The first was that when the submarine is in harbour it is plugged into a shore service to keep its 250 tons of batteries charged. The South African Press Association elaborated that “someone” had connected the submarine to this “the wrong way round”, blowing fuses in the submarine, apparently because the wires had not been marked properly. The sailor responsible had been disciplined. “A board of inquiry was convened and… a person was held responsible; he was reprimanded,” Teuteberg said.

The second was that in rough weather the vessel “banged” into a quay, causing minor damage to the aft plane, which helps steer and trim the submarine underwater. However, the integrity of the hull was not compromised, he said. SAPA noted the “bash” was sustained when putting to sea on a stormy day. “The entrance to the submarine base is too small for this type of submarine with one screw. We did touch the quay [with the aft plane] and bent plates slightly upwards. We immediately took the submarine out of the water and checked its water-tight integrity… the only damage was [the plane] which was bent upwards.” Teuteberg said there were now plans to widen the entrance to the submarine pen “so that there is more space”.

The third issue, Business Day says, involved the efficiency of the batteries, the admiral explained, saying that when being charged, batteries produced hydrogen and the build-up of the gas damaged some of the submarine’s 480 cells. The problem had been solved by introducing hydrogen release valves and the manufacturer had given the undertaking that some of the damaged units would be replaced free of charge, the broadsheet reports.

The Parliamentary question continues that the “battery is currently housed in the Submarine Battery Workshop where it is being trickle charged to ensure that the battery is maintained at operational levels. This means that the battery is being discharged and charged to ensure that the system remains operational without depreciating in Ampere Hours.” This despite the battery being replaced…

The answer also records that the fuse incident took place sometime in 2008, after the boat was placed in reserve. “The submarine’s wiring is not damaged but an incident did occur in 2008 during which mainly fuses were blown in a shore supply box (external of the submarine),” the ministry said. “During a switch over from shore to ship electrical supply, an incident occurred whereby an AC [alternating current] plug was incorrectly inserted into a DC [direct current] socket. This led to a number of fuses being blown (as with trip switches) protecting electrical equipment onboard from incorrectly phased electrical supply. This incident has led to changes in design and standard operating procedures to ensure that a similar incident cannot occur again. The minor repairs that had to be affected to the outboard switchboard were completed shortly after the incident occurred, in excess of 18 months ago. There are currently no repairs required to the submarine’s wiring.”

Freedom Front Plus defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald says it is a worry the boat was placed in reserve after just 18 months of service. It is a further worry that according to the answer the Navy and Armscor Dockyard currently lack the knowledge to service the submarine and that the whole process must still be learned. “For a submarine that cost R1.6 billion, the taxpayer is certainly not getting value for money. The minister cannot say what it [the service] will cost and there I uncertainty whether it is a major service or just a minor overhaul. The minister says it is a minor overhaul but in the briefing it was said this was a major service, hence the time period [two years] involved.”

The FF+ MP, who was a member of Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu’s Interim National Defence Force Service Commission, added the battery is a further uncertainty. He says the answer is contradictory. In one line it is avered the current battery is being maintained but in the next it is said a new battery is being acquired. “… the question is why is the current battery still being charged and discharged? If a battery’s lifetime is eight years, why is the existing battery’s life just six years?

“From the minister’s answer it is clear the full implications of the purchase was not realised and that the contract is defective. A proper contract would have ensured that the necessary knowledge of the maintenance and services required would have been part of the [contractor-provided] training,” Groenewald said. I will certainly be asking more questions to get clarity on this.”

The Heroine class are a variant of the Type 209 diesel-electric attack submarine developed by Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft AG of Germany, currently in service with the South African Navy.

Considered to be South Africa’s first “true” submarines, as they were more suited to being underwater than the Daphné models.

The first submarine, SAS Manthatisi (S101), was built by Howaldtswerke at Kiel. It was launched in June 2004 and commissioned in November 2005. The second and third submarines were built by Thyssen Nordseewerke in Emden. The SAS Charlotte Maxeke (S102) was launched in May 2005 and commissioned in March 2007. The third submarine, SAS Queen Modjadji (S103), was launched in 2006 and handed over in February 2008.

The submarines’ homeport is Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town.

The submarines are named after powerful South African women. SAS Manthatisi is named after the female warrior chief of the Batlokwa tribe. SAS Charlotte Maxeke is named after the female political activist Charlotte Maxeke, who campaigned for equality in the early 20th century. SAS Queen Modjadji is named after the South African Rain Queen.

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