Rescue operation after fishing vessel runs aground in Langebaan, Western Cape
At 19h47, Sunday, 17 May 2020, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Mykonos duty crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following reports of the 47,6 metre fishing vessel Harvest Krotoa with 32 crew onboard in difficulties and threatening to run aground at Plankies Bay, North of Fondeling Island, Langebaan in the Western Cape. Mike Shaw, NSRI Mykonos station commander, said their duty crew responded to our NSRI Mykonos sea rescue station and the sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski 5 (Rescue 4) and Spirit of Rotary – East London (Rescue 4 Alpha) were launched. On arrival on the scene the casualty vessel was found run aground on rocks with the bow of the vessel hard aground and the vessel listing to port side and occasionally rocking in heavy swell conditions listing to starboard. The cause of running aground, in heavy sea swells, attributed to the ships rudder jammed to port preventing the vessel to be steered. All casualty crew on board the vessel remained safe and while options were investigated to remove her crew from the vessel, if required or to arrange for a tug boat or salvage vessel to tow the vessel into deeper water, NSRI Airborne Sea Rescue (ASR), South African Air Force 22 Squadron and Western Cape Government Health EMS were placed on alert. The TNPA tug boat, Merlot and the TNPA pilot boat, Avocet, were launched to stand-by on the scene. Military personnel from a nearby military base were also activated to assist from the land side if required.
The lowest point of the listing casualty vessel was identified near to the bow on the port side and in communications between the coxswain of Rescue 4 Alpha and both the skipper and the bosun of the casualty vessel a Jacobs ladder was lowered over the side of the casualty vessel at that lowest point in preparation for the casualty crew evacuation.
Rescue 4 Alpha, in the surf line and hampered by heavy incoming sea swells and waves, exercised a number of dry runs to investigate the best possible options to evacuate crew down the Jacobs ladder and transportation to the larger sea rescue craft and to the TNPA boats if a crew evacuation became necessary.
Thoughts were also investigated to see if the sea rescue craft should run any crew that were evacuating from the ship, instead onto the shoreline rather than transporting them out to sea to the boats that were lying further out to sea.
It was confirmed that jagged rocks had punctured the water tanks of the casualty vessel raising fears that the ships ballast may have been compromised.
At that point, with the vessel listing to an angle of over 45 degrees, it was decided to begin evacuating crew off the casualty vessel and it was decided to take crew off in relays of six crew at a time and transport them to Rescue 4 and to the two TNPA boats further out to sea.
As the first of the casualty crew readied himself to come down the Jacobs ladder the skipper of Harvest Krotoa informed NSRI that he could feel his vessel floating.
Shaw said, “We estimate that this happened in the last few moments of peak high tide with about 30 seconds or less of a window of an opportunity to float the casualty vessel. The NSRI coxswain on Rescue 4 Alpha instructed that casualty crewman, who by this stage had already begun his evacuation procedure and was already on the Jacobs ladder, to climb back onto his ship. The casualty vessel was able to gently move off of the rocks and begin swinging her bow around using full reverse thrust.”
The skipper of Harvest Krotoa put full reverse thrust which, in the very shallow surf and with the rudder jammed to Port, brought the bow of his vessel slowly around exposing the ship broadside to the incoming waves.
Although she ran aground again the following wave sets provided enough depth of water for a further opportunity for the skipper to continue swinging the bow of his ship around successfully to face out to sea, with the skipper of Harvest Krotoa displaying masterful seamanship.
A tow line was then rigged to the bow of Harvest Krotoa. The casualty crew on the casualty vessel lowered a messenger line to the NSRI crew on Rescue 4 Alpha.
Rescue 4 then came into the surf line providing a thicker tow line which was fed to that messenger line and retrieved by Harvest Krotoa crew who rigged that tow line to the bridle on the bow of their casualty vessel. Rescue 4 Alpha took up tension of that tow line readying herself to transport that towline to the bigger sea rescue craft, Rescue 4, beyond the wave line.
The skipper of Harvest Krotoa appeared confident that Rescue 4 Alpha may even have some opportunity to tow Harvest Krotoa although at that stage, despite the casualty vessel rocking in the swells and partially floating, she continued to run aground against rocks but still able to gently bring her bow around to face out to sea.
As wave sets came in the casualty vessel was able to gradually edge away from the rocks into slightly deeper water. Rescue 4 came closer into the wave line and took that towline from Rescue 4 Alpha and Rescue 4 initiated towing of the casualty vessel into deeper water. Once in deeper water the towline was transferred from Rescue 4 to the tug boat Merlot.
The tug boat Merlot took the casualty vessel under tow and the NSRI sea rescue craft accompanied the towing effort towards Saldanha Bay harbour and continuing to investigate if the hull of the casualty vessel was compromised in any way from the ruptured water tanks but it appeared that the vessel remained stable in the water.
It was confirmed that despite the punctured water tanks the casualty vessels ballast was not compromised and the structural integrity of the vessel was secure and with all of her crew safe and not injured the tug boat Merlot continued towing the vessel to Saldanha Bay and NSRI were released from the scene and returned to base. The casualty vessel was safely moored in Saldanha Bay Harbour.
NSRI Emergency Operations Centre, NSRI Mykonos duty controllers, Telkom Maritime Radio Services, NSRI Transnet National Ports Authority and WC Government Health EMS Metro Control assisted Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in communications and coordination of the rescue operation.
The NSRI coxswains, NSRI crew and the Harvest Krotoa skipper and his crew are commended for their efforts in preventing a maritime disaster. The skipper of Harvest Krotoa has been applauded by NSRI for his calm, calculated approach and master seamanship skills displayed throughout the operation. The operation completed at midnight.