Gillian Malouw, Africa’s First Female Submarine Navigator, Passes on at Sea
By Adeke Chukwuka
South Africans are in mourning following the tragic loss of Lieutenant-Commander Gillian Malouw, the nation’s sole female submarine navigator and Africa’s pioneering female submarine officer.
She tragically lost her life during a submarine operation in Cape Town on Wednesday, due to a tragic incident involving a freak wave.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) identified the three submariners who tragically lost their lives in an incident off the Cape Town coast on Wednesday. Among them was Lieutenant Commander Gillian Malouw, who lost her life when a sizable wave struck the SAS Manthatisi during a sea resupply operation.
Malouw was celebrated in South Africa as the first female officer on the African continent to navigate a submarine.
Malouw and two of her crew members tragically passed away at sea when their vessel was struck by high waves off the coast of Kommetjie, Cape Town. They were part of a group of seven individuals aboard the SA Navy submarine SAS Manthatisi, en route to Cape Town.
The accident occurred during an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter’s “vertrep” (vertical replenishment) operation as it was delivering supplies to the SAS Manthatisi submarine near Cape Town’s coast.
While four officers were successfully rescued, Malouw, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, and Warrant Officer Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela tragically lost their lives.
President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his deep sorrow, stating that the disaster represents a profound loss for the nation. Authorities have initiated an inquiry to investigate the incident.
At the age of 32, Malouw embarked on her naval career in 2010, achieving combat officer status in 2018, and subsequently becoming a navigator in the following year. Her passion for the maritime industry was cultivated during her teenage years when she enrolled in the SA Sea Cadets.
Addressing the societal perception that the armed forces were primarily a career for men, Malouw acknowledged this initial obstacle in a 2020 interview with Cape Talk after making history as the first woman to navigate a submarine.
Despite facing discouragement along her journey, she remained resolute, noting that some doubted her abilities due to her petite stature or simply overlooked her skills.
Malouw shared, “For the first time in the history of our submarine service, we have a female in a leadership position. It shows we’re moving in the right direction.”
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