The SAS Durban

By 6th June 2019 July 22nd, 2019 Articles

Recently we wrote about the planned restoration of a number of the vessels that make up the Port Natal Maritime Museum, one of which is the SAS Durban.

A naval warship, or more accurately, a minesweeper, the SAS Durban was originally designed to counter the threat posed by naval mines, and is only one of three known survivors of the Ton-class minesweeper first developed for the Royal Navy in the early 1950s. South Africa had the largest number of these ships outside of Britain, ten in total, with eight being transferred from the Royal Navy in 1955 in terms of the Simonstown Agreement.* Two additional minesweepers were built specifically for the SA Navy, one of which was the SAS Durban.

Allan Jackson, author of the book, Facts About Durban, has a page on his website dedicated to ships that feature Durban in their names. Included is a wonderful anecdote about the SAS Durban submitted by the late Dave Sievwright of the National Sea Rescue Institute:

As you know, the SAS Durban is now a floating exhibit in our Durban Maritime museum. When I was still in the SA Navy, the SAS Durban was sent to Durban. I joined the vessel and was appointed Coxswain (Master-at-Arms) of the vessel. Dates are a little hazy, but about 1975 – 6.

The idea behind the relocation was to take the Indian members of the navy serving at SAS Jalsina and give them sea-going experience. Over a 3 – 4 week period we took over 350 Jalsina members to sea to find a group who would not get sick to start with, and who were strong enough to handle the duties aboard.

At the same time several ERMs were also taken aboard for engine room duties. We weeded out the guys quite quickly, and were left with about 14, who then joined the crew. The original junior rates, mostly seamen, were drafted back to Simons Town. We set about training the new crew and spent a lot of time at sea.

There were trips up to the Zululand coast where we did plenty of mine sweeping exercises, and there were several trips to the Cape. After about a year or so we took part in a large mine sweeping exercise in the Cape. We fared very well and beat most of the Cape based sweepers in most activities. Our skipper at the time was Commander Fred Marais. The Durban was stationed in Durban for about 4 years before we were sent back to Simons Town where the Durban was decommissioned.

I am not sure if the vessel was ever commissioned again before it was given to the City of Durban for the Maritime Museum. While I write this email I recall we had a ship’s cat… where it came from I cannot remember and the same goes for its name. Once when we were in Richard’s Bay with several strike craft we sailed and, unbeknown to us the cat had gone ashore. After clearing harbour and setting course for Durban, the question was asked ” Where is the cat?”.

The whole vessel was searched to no avail. The skipper gave permission to radio the strike craft, still alongside, whether they could see our cat on the quay. The answer was “Affirmative”. The strike craft crew were asked to try and catch the cat, which they did without too much fuss, and placed it in a large suitcase.

We re-entered harbour and lowered a sea boat (inflatable). The crew motored across to the strike craft that had slipped its moorings by then and was in the main channel heading for the entrance. The suitcase with its valued contents was collected and brought aboard. As the case was opened, the cat jumped out without any acknowledgement of those gathered on deck to welcome her back, and headed inside to the galley.

* The Simonstown Agreement (sic) was a naval cooperation agreement between the UK and the Union of South Africa under which the Royal Navy gave up its naval base at Simon’s Town and transferred command of the SA Navy to the government of South Africa. In return, South Africa promised the use of the Simon’s Town base to Royal Navy ships. The agreement also allowed South Africa to buy six anti-submarine frigates, four seaward defence boats and ten coastal minesweepers.

Cover photograph of the SAS Durban taken by Trevor Jones, and courtesy of www.sanavalfraternity.org

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