Cape Town - When he was 15 Clarence October of Bonteheuwel no longer wanted to go to school and begged his fisherman father to take him to sea.
Now at the age of 56, and captain of the MV Edinburgh fishing vessel, October has been awarded an honorary MBE by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in recognition for his services to the people of Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote inhabited island, home to 273 Britons.
October, who works for the local fishing company Overstone Agencies, has been the main supply line to the island since 1997, bringing passengers and cargo to it six times a year.
And October and his crew were instrumental in saving the crew of the ill-fated Maltese cargo carrier Oliva, which ran aground at Nightingale in March 2011. They also ferried hundreds of oil-drenched penguins from the accident site to Tristan for rehabilitation.
The Cape Times spoke by satellite phone to October yesterday. He is on board the Edinburgh, at anchor at Inaccessible Island. Overstone holds a lobster fishing concession at the islands of Gough, Inaccessible and Nightingale.
October was modest about his award: “Me and my crew just did want any other decent crew would have done.”
The Oliva ran aground in the early hours of March 16. October and crew saw the vessel’s lights.
“We called the vessel from around 5am to 7am, but there was no response. Then at 7.10am they told us they had run aground.”
October steamed to the stricken vessel and lowered the smaller lobster boats into the water to help get the crew off the Oliva and on board the Edinburgh.
“That first day the captain didn’t want to leave the vessel. He thought he could get it off. The next day the wind got up and the vessel swung around and started to break up. But because she had swung around there was no leeway to get in and pick the crew up. Then we got a one-hour window the next day and we went in and got them off. It was also thanks to a passenger ship that came to help. They had zodiacs that we needed.”
With the wreck came the oil spill: 1 600 tons of fuel into the water which threatened the wildlife around Inaccessible Island. October and crew then made many trips ferrying oiled rockhopper penguins to Tristan for rehabilitation.
Tristan administrator Sean Burns yesterday said October had quickly transformed the fishing boat into a platform for volunteers to rescue 3 500 penguins.
“The hours were long, the circumstances challenging, but Clarence showed excellent judgment and sound leadership throughout. The island would not have been able to respond to this disaster without the help of Clarence and his crew. We are all delighted that his contribution has been recognised by Her Majesty,” Burns said.
October and his crew were also awarded the Seafarer of the Year award in 2011 by South African Marine Safety Authority (Samsa) for the work done during the Oliva crisis.