Navy officer wrecked my project, says salvage diver
Maritime expert says he is being victimised by the Simon’s Town harbour master - and now he can’t finish work on his latest shipwreck
The navy has banned one of SA’s top salvage divers from entering its Simon’s Town base because of a fallout over a wreck in False Bay.
Well-known maritime expert Gary Mills, who has salvaged some of the country’s best-known shipwrecks, claims he is being victimised by a senior naval officer with whom he has a longstanding feud.As a result, Mills says he is unable to access equipment he has been contracted to salvage, which is currently tied to the harbour wall. He claims he is also unable to pay subcontracted divers working with him in False Bay.
In an interview with Times Select, Mills claimed the standoff related to a personal fallout with navy harbour master Kevin Wise, with whom he clashed previously over a salvage project near the wreck of the SAS Pietermaritzburg, which lies not far offshore from the harbour.
Times Select approached the navy in an attempt to get comment from Wise. The navy said it would respond on his behalf, and confirmed that Mills had been denied permission to operate in the naval dockyard.
Mills used the navy dockyard outer wall for the removal of the 19-ton bridge of the ship which had ripped loose during a winter storm. Mills claims the project came unstuck, forcing him to lodge a claim against the navy.Fallout over the salvage operation culminated in another dispute earlier this year when Wise denied Mills access to the dockyard to complete his current project.
Mills subsequently reported the matter to Simon’s Town base commander Admiral Joseph Dlamini, who met Mills to hear his concerns. Mills has also lodged grievances with the military ombudsman and parliament’s portfolio committee on defence and military veterans – without success.
Mills detailed his grievance in a letter to Dlamini, seen by Times Select: “During the initial stages of the (current) project we encountered regular incidents of harassment and intimidation from Captain Wise who saw fit to abuse his power in an attempt to sabotage our operations.”This week he told Times Select the ban was effectively harming economic development: “Millions of rands of taxpayers’ money has been poured into this project and you have some bureaucrat in the navy saying you are not allowed to continue here,” Mills fumed.
The navy said in a written response to Times Select: “The SA Navy Dockyard is a military establishment with restricted access to unauthorised personnel. Its core business is the repair, maintenance and berthing of SA Navy vessels.
“Access to private individuals will be denied or approved by the relevant Naval Authority. Mr Mills is welcome to approach Kalk Bay Harbour to serve as his base of operations for any salvage operations.”