The chokka fishing boat Maredon capsized at Sunset Rocks, Cape St Francis, and the SAAF 15 Squadron helicopter overhead. Photo: NSRI St Francis Bay

Cape St Francis - Despite an extensive sea, air, and shoreline search no sign has been found of eight fisherman still missing after a chokka fishing boat, the Maredon, capsized at sea off Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape in the early hours of Sunday morning, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said. 

Police divers were able to breach the hull of the boat - which is now hard aground - using cutting tools but no crew were found inside the hull, NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said on Sunday night.

Police and a police dive unit would continue an ongoing search and recovery operation. NSRI St Francis Bay remained on alert to assist police if requested. All involved in the search and rescue operation on Sunday were commended for their efforts in extremely rough sea conditions, Lambinon said.

Earlier on Sunday, he said one fisherman had been confirmed dead, eight were missing, and six were recovering in hospital after the Maredon capsized at sea off Cape St Francis.

NSRI St Francis Bay duty crew were activated by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) at about 3.30am following reports of red distress flares reported by chokka fishing vessels at sea off-shore of Thyspoint. The vessel Silver Eagle had spotted the red distress flares at around 3am and raised the alarm, calling Telkom Maritime Radio Services and MRCC.

The chokka fishing boat Maredon capsized at Sunset Rocks, Cape St Francis. Photo: NSRI St Francis Bay

An emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) had then also been intercepted by MRCC and additional flare sightings were reported. The Silver Eagle and another chokka fishing boat, the Megalodon, diverted to investigate and the Maredon was then confirmed to have capsized.

“It appears that Silver Eagle came upon a life-raft and reported that the life-raft had drifted too close in towards the rocks and could not be reached. Megalodon reported to have recovered one survivor from the water,” Lambinon said.

NSRI St Francis Bay launched the sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II into rough sea conditions with six metre swells and a gusting to 50 knots westerly wind and rain. A search commenced for survivors of the Maredon, which had been confirmed to have had 16 crew on board.

The South African Police Service (SAPS), Private Care ambulance services, local security company members, NSRI Jeffreys Bay and NSRI Oyster Bay, Eastern Cape government health emergency medical services (EMS), a police dive unit, and an NSRI Port Elizabeth air sea rescue (ASR) team aboard a South African Air Force 15 Squadron helicopter also responded, he said.

Shore patrols and a sea and air search continued. One survivor was transferred from the Megalodon on to the NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II and he was brought to shore and then transported to hospital by Private Care ambulance services in a stable condition.

During the search, members of the public, including the owner of other chokka fishing boats and NSRI rescuers, recovered one dead fisherman on the shore in the vicinity of Sunset Rocks and five survivors were found on the beach at Sunset Rocks.

The Maredon was found capsized and hard aground at Sunset Rocks but surf conditions did not allow rescuers to get close to the stricken vessel during the high tide.

“As high tide approached, waves caused the stricken vessel to roll over a few times and one survivor was witnessed climbing out of the vessel and NSRI rescue swimmers waded into the water and rescued the survivor who has been airlifted to hospital by the SAAF 15 Squadron charlie flight helicopter in a stable condition.

“At this stage there is one fishermen recovered and confirmed to be deceased, seven survivors recovered of which six have been hospitalised and reported to be in stable conditions, and eight crew who are missing,” he said.

Police had opened an inquest docket and the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) would launch an investigation.
African News Agency