Called out to save lives at sea, SAMSA responds accordingly, as fate of foreign crew stranded in SA remain unclear

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A HELPING HAND:  A SAMSA official hands over food items and related material to six crew members of a stranded vessel that entered South African sea waters and anchored off the port of Cape Town without permission a month ago. The vessel believed to be of Asian origin has since been quarantined and detained at the port of Cape Town pending resolution of its law transgressions since entering the country’s waters illegally.

Pretoria: 08 January 2020

The fate of six stranded Asian sailors found in a desperate situation in a poorly conditioned vessel off the port of Cape Town recently may remain uncertain still, but their safety and general well-being going forward is ensured for time being, thanks to the timely intervention and assistance efforts of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

According to the agency, part of whose mandate is to ensure the safety of property and life at sea, the epic drama involving the six foreign sailors – two from Taiwan and four others from Mynmar, and some of whom now face possible legal sanction – apparently unfolded after SAMSA officials were alerted by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF) about a drifting, fuel-less and permit-less vessel spotted at sea, off the port of Cape Town on 02 December 2019.

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Four of the six member crew of the Yong Qing Fa No.666 currently believed to have been abandoned by their employer and who are currently residing on board the crippled vessel at the port of Cape Town after it was detained following its unauthorized entry and anchorage in SA waters, and a subsequent C188 inspection that found it not seaworthy. The six member crew of the vessel consists of four seafarers from Mynmar and two others from Taiwan.

Captain Pierre Schutz, a deputy Principal Officer at SAMSA’s western region Cape Town office, recounted this week about how the agency’s officers scrambled to the rescue of the foreign seafarers to ensure primarily their safety and general welfare while their sea sailing troubles including legal issues were being interrogated for a possible resolution.

The legal woes facing both the owners and crew of the now quarantined fishing vessel known as the Yong Qing Fa No.666 but whose flag state has yet to be determined, it emerged, include the vessel’s unauthorized entry into South African sea waters, the absence on board of necessary documentation including certificates of nationality, tonnage, drawing plans, crew list, Voyage Management System (VMS) transmitting, and an off Automatic Identification System (AIS).

On entering South African waters without permission and dropping anchor near Cape Town harbor without authorization on 30 November 2019 due to apparent desperation for bunkers, the six member crew on board reportedly also initially failed to communicate properly their plight with local authorities due to language difficulties, until the Taiwanese Fisheries agency in South Africa got involved, almost a week later.

pic 5In fact, on entering the country’s waters in the Atlantic Ocean and putting anchor near the Cape Town port, according to SAMSA, based on TNPA reports, the vessel’s crew did so without following any protocols and had maintained complete radio silence, something unusual and illegal.

It had since emerged that the six crew members and their poorly maintained vessel had were likely abandoned by the owner, with four of the crew members having not been paid their wages.

According to SAMSA on Wednesday this week, two of the stranded seafarers, from Taiwan, had since been charged with certain law transgressions (unspecified) and were due to reappear in a Cape Town magistrate’s court on 27 January 2020.

Reporting about the drama, Capt. Schutz says SAMSA got drawn initially to the plight of the crew of the vessel – and which had since been established to have been sailing from West Africa to Mauritius – after respective authorities including the TNPA, DEFF and others, all bound by relevant legislation and protocols, were initially reluctant and refused it entry into a South African port without standard procedures having been fully observed.

These included a 21 day offshore containment period to determine the vessel and crew health condition that it did not carry any communicable diseases such as – in this case – Ebola, as the vessel had reportedly sailed from a West African region where the deadly disease is reputably rife. 

He says 12 days after the drama ensued, with engagements ongoing among respective authorities, SAMSA appealed to the TNPA, DEFF and others to allow an inspection of the vessel and crew in order to facilitate provision of basic essentials to the crew, such as food and water. Crucially, this was also to ensure the safety of the vessel given its unauthorized anchorage which could prove hazardous to other sailing vessels in the vicinity if left unattended for too long.

By 13 December 2019, according to Capt. Schutz, the vessel was eventually allocated a berth in an isolated area at the port of Cape Town following to which nutrition was brought on board for the vessels’ crew while a variety of inspections were conducted.

He confirmed that a SAMSA inspection in terms of local and international legal instruments including the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) C188 – Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) found the vessel to be not seaworthy and it was officially detained, while a DEFF inspection led to the arrest of the vessel’s skipper and his subsequent appearances in court.

cropped-samsa-master-logoAs of last week, according to Capt. Schutz, the vessel still had no power and it still had no local agent appointed to attend to its needs as required by law. Meanwhile Taiwanese authorities in South Africa were still not taking responsibility for a majority of the crew members on board the vessel while DEFF officials’ efforts to seek assistance from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) had proved fruitless so far.

Capt. Schutz says: “The SAMSA (Cape Town office) is liaising with DEFF in terms of the court appearance of two of the seafarers. It is also liaising with the local Apostleship of the Seas in terms of welfare and food. Currently also, SAMSA is supplying food while awaiting for the court appearance.”

Regarding the detention of the vessel, Capt. Schutz says its release will be conditional to the owners carrying out the repairs it is so advised to do and on completion, inform SAMSA.

“Once so advised, SAMSA would conduct another inspection, and if the vessel is found in good condition, the vessel would be released from detention. There is no time frame attached to this,” he says, save for a range of port charges it will incur, accruing to the TNPA, for its safekeeping at a South African port, and which could escalate depending on how long it takes to repair it.

Capt. Schutz says further that the vessels’ crew will be repatriated  once all matters related are finalized to the satisfaction of South African authorities.

“The responsibility however lies with the owners. There has been no final decision in this regard,” he says.

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Please note that this story has been updated to provide additional details and correct certain inaccuracies.

Cape Town ferry incident under investigation: SAMSA

Update One: 14:06 (Saturday, 16 September 2017)

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Pretoria: 16 September 2017

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident involving a tourists cruise ferry in Cape Town from which about 60 people had to be rescued after it got into trouble off Robben Island on Friday, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has confirmed.

According to Captain Pierre Schutz, a senior ships examiner (deck) and deputy Principal Officer at SAMSA’s Cape Town Office, the incident involving the ferry named Thandi occurred on Friday afternoon, shortly after lunch, while it was returning from Robben Island to the port of Cape Town, with about 64 passengers on board and a crew of five.

Thandi 3The vessel  is owned and managed by Silver Buckle Trade 21, said Capt Schultz.

He said according to preliminary reports, the drama began at about 2pm (CAT) after the ferry, packed with passengers, and sailing over a choppy sea due to a surge of wind over the Atlantic Ocean, began taking water over the bow.

“She was taking water over the bow due to the swell and wind when the port engine room bilge alarm sounded.

“A crew member attended and reported to the skipper that the bilge pump couldn’t cope. A ‘May Day’ (distress call) was raised. At this stage the forward windows of the vessel were apparently broken by wave action. The main life raft was apparently swept away,” said Capt Schultz.

He said at that point, at approximately 2.18pm, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) was activated and shortly thereafter, all the passengers and crew were rescued.

“This involved transfer to multiple vessels, principally the Madiba 1 and all passengers and crew were landed at Mandela Gateway by approximately 4pm. SAMSA has initiated a preliminary inquiry to determine the cause of the incident,” said Capt Schultz.

On Saturday afternoon, the vessel remained afloat and had been secured at Murray Harbour, in Robben Island, confirmed Capt Schultz.

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Please note that this article has been updated to correct the number of passengers an earlier version stated as 68. This was apparently due to erroneous inclusion of some crew members of the Thandi’s sister ferry, the Madiba I who assisted with the passenger rescue. 

Newly designed SAMSA certificates find proud owners

Pretoria: 20 June 2016

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COMPETENCY CONFIRMED: (From Left) Mr Ryan Smith, Chief Navigating Officer at Smit Amandla Marine in Cape Town receiving recently his copy of the newly designed SAMSA Certificate of Competence from Captain Antoinette Keller, Deputy Principal Officer for the SAMSA Cape Town Office.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) issued newly designed Certificate of Competence for seafarers has begun finding home with the country’s sailors and who are simply almost wholly impressed with its features. The CoC is one of two newly designed certificates launched by the organization a month ago.

IMG_4705 (2)IMG_4707 (2)Modeled on South Africa’s Passport with intricate security features, the new certificates according to SAMSA’s Centre for Seafarers,  are in compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention) and the Merchant Shipping (Safe Manning, Training and Certification) Regulations, 2013, as amended (MS (SMTC) Regulations, 2013.

Chief Examiner at the Centre for Seafarers, Captain Azwimmbavhi Mulaudzi says the STCW Convention is one of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) cornerstone convention.

“It is a comprehensive set of international regulations intended to ensure that the highest standards of seafarer competence are maintained globally. The STCW 2010 amendments are intended to ensure that STCW standards stay relevant, so that seafarers can continue to develop and maintain their professional skills,” says Captain Mulaudzi.

IMG_6394To produce the new certificates featuring a set of new intricate security measures – inclusive of a watermark with the SAMSA logo; a background watermark featuring a South African Vessel which is visible when the document is held to the light, as well as hidden elements such as invisible ink and micro-printed text – SAMSA worked closely with the Government Printing Works (GPW.

According to Captain Mulaudzi: “These are all intended to prevent tampering, alteration, forgery and to allow for easy recognition of the genuine items and also to ensure that seafarers’ identities are protected.”

The first proud sailor to lay claim to the new CoC earlier this month is Ryan Smith, a Chief Navigating Officer (<3000GT>) at Smit Amanda Marine in Cape Town, a company he has been with since about 13 years ago.

Smith, a graduate of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and a seafarer who has gone through the ranks on board various scientific research vessels managed and operated by Smit Amanda Marine, as well as the Offshore Division of the company involving various Offshore Tugs, said he was impressed with the overall layout of the new CoC.

“The layout of the new COC is more refined and substantially simplified, with useful additional general information notes at the rear of the booklet,” said Smith.

Being the first seafarer in the country to lay claim to the new CoC will remain a matter of pride for him for a while yet, he mused.

Of his now over a decade old career at sea, Smith quipped: “My most memorable moment in my short career thus far was the salvage of the jack-up rig, Perro Negro 6 which capsized off Angola. At this time I was serving onboard the AHTS Smit Madura, under the command of Captain Toralf Grapow, my friend and mentor, and coincidentally the Master of the very first vessel I joined as a cadet!”

Meanwhile, according to Captain Pierre Schutz, a deputy Principal Officer and a chief examiner (deck) at SAMSA’s Cape Town office, one or two other sailors have since collected theirs as well.

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