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The Wreck of the SAS Pietermaritzburg

SAHRA’s vision is to provide for the identification, conservation and promotion of our heritage resources for present and future generations.

The SAS Pietermaritzburg

One of these heritage resources is the SAS Pietermaritzburg, an Algerine class minesweeper that was sold to the South African Navy by the British Admiralty in 1947. During her career with the SA Navy she was used as a vessel to train midshipmen and then later as a dormitory at Simon’s Town Naval Base. In November 1994 her time in the Navy came to an end and she was scuttled with ceremonial honours about 1km off Millers Point near Simon’s Town on the False Bay side of Cape Town. 

Since then the wreck site has become a popular recreational diving site as well as training site for new divers. One of the main reasons for scuttling the vessel was to preserve it as an artificial reef site, allowing for the growth of marine life and providing a dive site where people could still go visit this unique vessel and remember the significant role it played in history. Today however, the shipwreck site has recently come under threat and has been nominated for National Heritage Site status by the Simon’s Town Historical Society. The threats come in the form of salvaging activities that have removed large chunks of the wreck which has caused instability in the overall structure of the vessel and destroyed a once beautiful resource. The threat is not only to the structure itself but also to the marine life that made the Pietermaritzburg its home. 

As part of the nomination process the SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) Unit conducted an assessment dive on the wreck site on November 13, 2012.  SAHRA had gotten numerous reports from recreational divers that have been on the site that suggested that the wreck was in bad condition following the salvage activities that took place earlier this year. Due to this threat and fondness of many divers and the larger Simon’s Town community to the PMB, as she was more affectionately known, a public meeting was held on the 30 July 2012 and a petition hosted on the South African Naval Fraternity website to push for provisional protection.

MUCH team member assessing the collapsed structure on the Pietermaritzburg wreck site
 
The dive confirmed all this, with the team finding a once whole structure in a damaged state, with collapsed structure lying in piles in many places and the site undergoing an increased rate of deterioration. The site is still under threat due to the wreck being less than 60 years old and not a natural resource. It is therefore currently afforded no legal protection under the National Heritage Act 35 of 1999 or the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998. Salvagers with legal salvage permits can therefore remove items or pieces from the wreck without any hindrance from local authorities.

Wreck sites are non-renewable resources and once they have been destroyed all that remains of them are photographs and memories. The MUCH Unit therefore finds it important that this heritage resource be provisionally protected and declared as a National Heritage Site so that future generations too can enjoy and learn from this resource.

The application for Provisional Protection and nomination for declaration as National Heritage has been put forward to SAHRA Council and is presently awaiting approval.  

The full case can be viewed online on SAHRIS at:
http://www.sahra.org.za/content/sas-pietermaritzburg-wreck

Author: 

tara.vanniekerk

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