Heavy seas damage frigate engine

Cape Town - Minutes after hearing that the four Meko Type-200 frigates operated by the SA Navy (SAN) were the "perfect ships for our type of coast", MPs on Tuesday were told the rough seas had broken an engine on one of the warships.

"The starboard propulsion unit on one of the frigates is broken," SAN chief director maritime strategy, Rear-Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg, informed members of Parliament's defence portfolio committee.

An investigation had discovered a "shortcoming" on an underwater exhaust valve. "We believe this to be a design shortcoming, but particular to the sea states we operate in. It happened when the vessel was rolling excessively and therefore the pressure changed as the exhaust went down.

"And there was water ingress... to the engine, [which] damaged the crankshaft of this engine," he said.

The discovery of the faulty valve had led to an investigation of the navy's three other frigates.

"An... engineering change was done in order to improve the closing of the valves under extreme conditions," Teuteberg said.

Frigates 'brilliant'

Earlier, he told members South Africa had got "the best value for money ever" when it bought the frigates from Germany.

"They are brilliant. At sea they are capable, they've got long legs, they've got speed when you require them, the sensors work beautifully... I tell you, perfect ships for our type of coast."

Teuteberg said the damaged frigate - he did not name the ship - would need a new engine.

"A new engine will cost us R16m... We have to remove the [damaged] engine and replace it. We have the necessary money, and we're ordering the new engine."

The operation would involve cutting open the vessel's hull, in what he described as a "major evolution" set for next year.

The frigate was currently operational, propelled by its port engine and gas turbine-driven water jet, but confined to coastal waters.

"We would not send her beyond that," Teuteberg said.

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