Combined efforts in assisting 26 casualties off a vessel on fire off Cape Point
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) said that 26 crewmembers were rescued and brought to shore after their fishing vessel caught fire overnight south of the Cape of Good Hope near Cape Town. They described the rescue as “a frantic effort involving no less than three ships which had responded to a mayday call.” On Friday, 14 April 2023 at 01h00 local time, the MRCC Cape Town received a radio call from the crew of the fishing vessel Olivia Marie reporting that their 105-foot ship was on fire. The vessel registered in South Africa shows according to its AIS data that it had departed Hout Bay, south of Cape Town, on April 5.
The MRCC reported that the crew said they were abandoning ship after the fire had begun in the engine room and that the “whole vessel” was now on fire. The fire was said to be spreading quickly. The crew was getting into a small life raft despite strong winds and high seas and urgently requesting assistance.
Several vessels were in the area and the MRCC coordinated with them to organize the rescue. A Liberian registered bulk carrier, AquaExplore (179 000 dwt) was inbound toward St Helena Bay Anchorage and diverted. She was the first on the scene but SAMSA reported the vessel was unable to recover the fishing boat crew from the raft. The bulker however remained on-scene.
Next to arrive was a smaller fishing boat, the 62-foot Umfondini, also registered in South Africa and operating out of neighbouring Gordons Bay. The vessel was able to rescue the crewmembers from their raft. It left the raft and burning fishing boat heading for shore with the crew.
“All crew were safely transferred to the Umfondini with the prevailing winds reported to be South-westerly at 15 knots and a water swell of up to 2,6 metres (approximately 8.5 feet). The AquaExplore proceeded with its normal voyage,” with the bulker arriving at its destination later in the day reported SAMSA.
The Transnet National Ports Authority, Telkom Maritime Radio Services, NSRI Simon’s Town duty controllers, NSRI Hout Bay duty controllers and the NSRI’s EOC assisted MRCC in the coordination of the rescue operation.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) reported that NSRI Hout Bay were also activated and they dispatched the two NSRI rescue craft Nadine Gordimer and Albie Matthews and NSRI Simon’s Town dispatched the NSRI rescue vessel Donna Nicholas.
The 26-casualty crew were not injured and all were accounted for and safe on board the Umfondini. They were brought to the shelter of Buffels Bay where they were transferred onto the NSRI Simon’s Town rescue craft Donna Nicholas and brought to NSRI Simon's Town. They were then transported by road to their home base in Hout Bay.
Strandloper had been dispatched by TNPA to take her under tow. Her estimated arrival time was 20h00 on Friday evening. The NSRI Hout Bay rescue craft Nadine Gordimer and the NSRI Kommetjie rescue craft Spirit of the Vines were scrambled to respond.
On arrival on the scene the estimated 80 ton casualty vessel, still smouldering, was found drifting towards shore but appeared to be at no risk of sinking.
Telkom Maritime Radio Services assisted with marine VHF radio communications during the operation.
NSRI rescue swimmers were deployed and a towline was rigged to the casualty vessel from NSRI Hout Bay’s rescue craft Nadine Gordimer. NSRI were able to use sea currents to gently tow the vessel away from land and hold her off-shore until the tug boat Strandloper arrived on the scene, averting an environmental maritime disaster.
The towline was transferred to Strandloper and Strandloper towed the casualty vessel to deep sea until Saturday where during the morning Strandloper towed the casualty vessel and moored her at a berth on the sea side of Hout Bay Harbour pier.
Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services worked on putting out the smouldering vessel fire, while a Western Cape Government Health EMS ambulance was on-site.
Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson, City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service, said, “The incident was reported as a smouldering vessel that was towed into Houtbay Harbour on Sunday, 16 April 2023. The vessel was burning upon arrival.”
“Our response included a fire engine, water tanker and rescue vehicle from Houtbay Fire Station, fire engines from Epping, Wynberg, Roeland Street and Constantia fire stations, a fire engine and hazmat vehicle from Lakeside, a hazmat vehicle from Bellville as well as a paramedic from Kraaifontein. Crews extinguished the fire using direct attack strategies. The fire was extinguished 17h40, however, crews monitored the situation until the next morning at 08h00.”
“The vessel sustained substantial damages and no injures was reported. Challenges faced included the extreme heat and the fire load of the vessel and crews not able to board the ship due to safety concerns”, added Carelse.
No injuries were reported, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, and a salvage company set up barriers around the vessel to prevent any pollution spills, but there have been no signs of any oil or diesel leakage, spills, or outfall.
The owners of the casualty vessel have appointed salvors to assess salvage options. All parties involved were commended for their efforts in preventing any environmental damage.
Sources: South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson, City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service; NSRI
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