South African Navy frigate visits UK ahead of SS Mendi commemoration

South African Navy frigate SAS Amatole visited Plymouth, UK, to mark the sinking of the South African troop ship Mendi 100 years ago off the Isle of Wight which coincides with the nation’s Armed Forces Day.

Apart from the commemoration, SAS Amatola will spend a few weeks training with the Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) organisation.

The captain of the South African Navy Valour-class frigate has said how pleased he is to be in Plymouth as the visit coincides with the most important ceremonial event in his nation’s defence force year.

The ship’s first visit to Plymouth will be followed with a memorial event in Portsmouth on Tuesday, February 21, to mark the sinking of the South African troop ship Mendi.

A live broadcast will link the two events across the world.

Captain Johannes Roux, Amatola captain, said: “I am delighted to be in Plymouth and Devonport Naval Base.

“My crew is also excited. The South African and Royal navies have close links; especially with the support we give the Royal Navy in Simonstown Naval Base.

“HMS Portland has recently visited on her deployment.’’

Naval base commander, Commodore Ian Shipperley said: “The visit is of high importance to the UK-South African relationship given the strategic importance of Simonstown Naval Base, and other logistical support provided to the Royal Navy by the South Africans.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to return the support, demonstrating it is a strong bilateral relationship.’’

The sinking of SS Mendi is a national tragedy that took the lives of more than 600 men on board. In January 1917 SS Mendi left Cape Town with 823 men of the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps aboard.

After a month-long journey, the ship called in at Plymouth before making for Le Havre in France to offload her passengers.

Instead, before dawn on February 21, she was struck by food transporter SS Darro, which drove a 20ft deep gash in the Mendi’s bow before extracting herself and continuing on her way.


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