In a bid to prevent more deaths at sea, the Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, has called on the government to stop cutting the navy budget.
In a moving memorial service to the families of the three mariners who lost their lives after being swept off the SAS Manthatisi in Kommetjie while carrying out a routine training exercise last week, Lobese said the government must intervene.
Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector, 33, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, 48, and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela, 43, died after the Manthatisi was hit by a rogue wave during a training exercise last Wednesday.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Wynberg Military Indoor Sports Centre to pay their respects to the fallen sailors.
Lobese said the tragedy must be a wake-up call to the SA Navy, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), and to the government.
"The SANDF and the SA Navy have for too long suffered with constant reductions in our budget. Although our budget is cut every year, our constitutional mandate is not reduced in any way. We are still expected to make miracles with the little money that we have," said Lobese.
He said one thing that cannot be disputed is that today's defence force, especially the SA Navy, is a technologically-driven service.
"In the navy, we do not equip the man, but we man the equipment. This means that [to] be relevant and effective, our equipment must be of the latest and most modern design.
"This costs money, not only to procure but also to maintain. We have these vessels that we are doing our best to look after, but we need the money to maintain them effectively," said Lobese.
The SA Navy said if there were continued budget cuts, they feared tragedies would become more common.
"And that is a toll on human life and sacrifice that will be very costly to bear, not only for the navy but for the SANDF and the country as a whole," Lobese said.
His pleas were greeted by applause and a loud "yes" from the many at the memorial.
"These constant budget cuts make it impossible to fulfil our constitutional mandate. Government must make the decision to either properly fund the SANDF or reduce our responsibilities because we cannot continue as we are currently doing," Lobese said.
He added that if their ships were not out at sea to protect maritime interests, criminal elements would step into the void "very quickly".
"As chief of the navy, it is very difficult to lose any of our sailors or ships due to budgeting and maintenance challenges.
"Our fellow brothers and sisters who we are bidding farewell [to] were not cowards, they were not traitors. No, they were true team members. They tasted the real saltiness of the sea... No one else will dare to have done what these members have gone through," Lobese said.
Trying to fight back the tears as he spoke about each crew member who died in last week's tragedy, Lobese said "their lives will be written in our hearts."
He described Hector as one of the brightest submarine officers of her generation.
"Gillian was a woman amongst women, a submariner amongst submariners. She was such a gentle soul who always smiled," said Lobese.
Hector knew what she wanted and "was going to achieve her goals successfully".
"Hector was the first female officer to qualify as a submariner, not because she was a woman, but because she was the best," said Lobese.
He added that even with the media coverage she got when news broke that she was the first female in the country to qualify as a submariner, she "still remained humble".
Lobese said Mojela joined the Navy in 1999 while studying and completed his trade test in 2004.
"He joined the submarine squadron in 2005 and then proceeded to complete his general submarine knowledge course in Eckernförde in Germany," Lobese said.
Mojela sailed on the delivery voyage of SAS Manthatisi in 2006.
"He was a big family man. He was dedicated to his faith and was busy with Bible school. He was passionate about mentoring the next generation and was very patient.
"He was a fitness freak and loved outdoor activities with his loved ones. He also loved working with his hands and was a good handyman at home," said Lobese.
When speaking of Mathipa, Lobese bowed his head as his tears flowed.
"He was a selfless and dedicated team player. He was a confident, disciplined submariner who displayed a high standard of initiative and always had a smile on his face. He knew the boat exceptionally well and he trained most of the current serving officers," Lobese said.
The SA Navy said the loss suffered by the submarine squadron was great.
"Not only have we lost qualified specialists who have served their country with pride and diligence, but the loss of experience and competence will be felt for many years to come," the navy chief added.
An inquiry is set to be launched into the deaths of the three submariners on 11 October.
"This board will be chaired by an experienced submarine officer, whose task is to ... to examine what happened and determine what needs to be put in place to prevent such a tragedy from taking place in future," said Lobese.
He added that despite the media attention, the board will not be rushed and will be given sufficient time to come up with their findings and recommendations.
"Despite the many rumours circulating about what happened on that fateful day, this board of inquiry will have the final say on the matter.
"Rest assured, the findings of this board will not be kept secret but will serve as a beacon to guide the deployment of SA Navy submarines into the future," Lobese said.