Cape Town: 28 October 2020
There were sighs and clear signs of relief on the faces of both a group of seafarers as well as the handful of family members as the SA Agulhas II – the country’s most advanced polar research vessel – berthed at Eastern Mole 1 at the port of Cape Town on Monday evening with the seafarers safely onboard.
It was the end of a +5 000 kilometer journey for the 60 seafarers on board – 47 of them South African – who narrowly escape injury two weeks ago some 2600 kilometers deep in the Atlantic Ocean, after their Balize-flagged fishing research vessel, the Geo Searcher, sank within a mile off the Gough Island after it reportedly struck underwater rocks, quickly took water and sank.
The hair raising incident, and during which two of the 62 sailors suffered minor injuries had, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), occured in the late afternoon of Thursday, 15 October 2020, while the group of seafarers was sailing in the vicinity of Gough Island.
When the vessel reportedly struck the underwater rocks and rapidly took water, the seafarers scrambled onto safety boats that helped them reach dry land.
SAMSA through its Sea Watch and Rescue linked Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) based in Cape Town not only first picked up the frantic calls for help from the vessel’s crew after it got into difficulty that Thursday afternoon, but also co-ordinated the entire rescue mission – working hand in glove with various institutions and State departments including the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), owners of the SA Agulhas II.
With Captain Knowledge Mdlase as Master of the SA Agulhas II, a week ago the vessel was dispatched to the Gough Island to fetch the stranded seamen and after initially battling with choppy ocean winds, it succefully reached and fetched all the seafarers for on boarding onto the SA Agulhas II for the 2500 kilometer trip to Cape Town, which ended on Monday evening.
From a SAMSA perspective, the safe rescue and return of the 60 seafarers (two more others were dropped of at Tristan da Cuhna) marked the successful completion of South Africa’s most biggest sea rescue mission in over a decade.
This is according to the head of SAMSA’s MRCC in Cape Town, Mr Jared Blows. In a brief chat on Tuesday, the morning after the return of the SA Agulhas II from Gough Island, Mr Blows said constant alertness and closer cooperation with various others institutions was key to the success of the mission.
For his views (+3 minutes) click on the video below.
Meanwhile, Captain Bengu described the rescue mission as having been relatively smooth, this despite challenging weather conditions initially on their arrival near the Gough Island last week. It took the vessel the entire four days to get there.
According to Captain Bengu, the rescue mission started hurriedly during the evening of Thursday, 15 October when he and his SA Agulhas II crew had to drop off in Cape Town a group of passengers that were onboard returning from a research mission, and had to rush back towards Gough Island.
“The vessel departed at about 11pm on Thursday and sailed full speed – at about 16 knots per hour – towards Gough Island, which took us about four days.
“Unfortunately when we got to the island on 20 October, the weather was unfavourable to conduct any flight operations especially with regards flying seafarers onboard. We had to wait it throughout the evening until we decided to call off the operation for the day. The following day, as soon as there was a weather opening – a two hour gap in the weather – a very brave helicopter crew took a decision to fly even as the conditions were not so good. They managed to bring on board all 62 seafarers safely and unharmed,” said Captain Bengu.
He said in addition to rescuing the stranded seafarers, the SA Agulhas II crew also conducted an environmental inspection for oil spillage around the wreck of the sunken vessel, the Geo Searcher.
Later upon departure from the island, the SA Agulhas first headed for Tristan da Cunha where it dropped two of the 62 seafarers after which it headed for South Africa.
“On our arrival at Tristan da Cunha, the Tristanians were very generous and donated clothing and food for the rest of the survivors,’ he said.
For Captain Bengu’s full remarks, click on the video below (+-4minutes)
He also described the 62 rescued seafarers as “most grateful and with full appreciation of the hospitality they received.”
Regrettably, this blog could not convince any of the rescued seafarers on Monday evening to speak on record about their ordeal this past week. This notwithstanding, several seemed happy to have made it back home in good health and were full of praise for the SA Agulhas II crew.