SAS Durban resting on the tug JR More. Picture by Prof Brian Kearney
Staff and volunteers at the Port Natal Maritime Museum battled all weekend to prevent the ex-SA Navy minesweeper SAS DURBAN from sinking at her mooring alongside the former harbour tug and fellow exhibit, JR MORE.
The ship began to list to starboard during the early hours of Friday morning, amidst heavy rain that fell across Durban for the remainder of the day and night. Extra pumps were borrowed from various sources as staff tried to contain the rising level of water, a battle that continued into the following couple of days.
Had the minesweeper not been berthed alongside the ex-harbour steam tug JR More it is possible that she may have capsized on several occasions during the course of Friday as staff struggled to save the ship. SAS Durban has been barred to visitors for some time on account of the rotten condition of her decks, in which several large holes were recently patched by a member of the Friends of the Museum in an attempt to prvent rainwater from entering the ship.
The 55-year old warship is one of only three known survivors of the ‘Ton’ class minesweeper fist 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 RN in terms of the Simon’s Town Agreement. Two additional ships were built specifically for the SA Navy of which SAS Durban was one, SAS Windhoek being the other.
The little ship has been a favourite exhibit at the Durban maritime museum since 1988 but in recent years has become neglected and allowed to deteriorate. As recently as Thursday the Durban History Museums Trust voted a considerable sum of money for the Friends of the Museum, a volunteer organisation, to begin replacing the decking. This was less than 12 hours before the ship almost capsized.
On Tuesday last week the Museum held a function to officially open an exhibition of photographs depicting the history of the Port of Durban. Giving the keynote speech Professor Brian Kearney, chairman of the Board of Trustees warned museum management of the deteriorating condition of the exhibits with these prophetic words, “The condition of the JR More and the minesweeper Durban are now so poor that any day now you may find them at the bottom.”
He said there had been very little positive reaction to urgent requests to the city by the trust for remedial action. “Four years ago the trust offered a large sum of seed-money to the council for a major refurbishment programme. We have not had a reply, but we repeat our offer.” By Monday the situation with SAS Durban appeared to have stabilised but the condition of her timbers below decks remains unknown until a proper inspection can be carried out. It is clear that repairs will require more than simply replacing all her decking, which the Friends of the Museum were preparing to undertake. The condition of her hull will now require the vessel to be taken out of the water for urgent attention.