South Africa Coordinates Rescue of 26 Crew from Burning Fishing Boat

fishing vessel rescue
SAMSA coordinated the rescue of the crew but the burnt out fishing vessel is drifting off the coast (photo courtesy of SAMSA)

Published Apr 14, 2023 4:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is reporting 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 are describing the rescue as “a frantic effort involving no less than three ships which had responded to a mayday call.”

At 0100 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 reports that the crew said they were abandoning ship after the fire had begun in the engine room and that the “whole vessel” was now ablaze. 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 reports 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 neighboring 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 meters (approximately 8.5 feet). The AquaExplore proceeded with its normal voyage,” with the bulker arriving at its destination later in the day reports SAMSA.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), a volunteer lifesaving organization, also put a boat out to assist with the effort. The rescue boat was able to rendezvous with the fishing vessel with the crew from the burning ship. They transferred the crew to the NSRI Simon’s Town craft. The rescue boat brought the crew back to their station and arranged for them to be transported back to Hout Bay.

SAMSA is also issuing a navigation warning asking vessels in the area both to proceed with caution and to also report any sightings of the drifting fishing boat and its life raft. A third fishing boat, Langenberg, spotted the wreck of the Olivia Marie seen drifting approximately 3.5 nautical miles from its original position with the force 5 winds pushing the wreck toward shallow waters. SAMSA is also warning that some debris has been spotted in the water along with the drifting life raft.

They are requesting assistance in the recovery of the Olivia Marie and its lift raft. Efforts are continuing to salvage the abandoned vessel.