Distraught family mounts pressure on Sea Harvest

Marshal Titus one of 11 fishermen presumed to have drowned when one of Sea Harvest’s hake deep-sea trawl vessels sank. Picture: Supplied

Marshal Titus one of 11 fishermen presumed to have drowned when one of Sea Harvest’s hake deep-sea trawl vessels sank. Picture: Supplied

Published May 22, 2024


While distraught families in the Sea Harvest fishing trawler disaster are demanding answers, the fisheries sector industry has yet again been hit by a similar tragedy after one fisherman died and another was reported missing when their snoek fishing boat capsized off the West Coast.

At about 4.04pm on Monday, reports emerged of a boat that toppled over with four local fishermen aboard about 1 nautical mile offshore of Shelley Point, said National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesperson Craig Lambinon.

Transnet National Ports Authority, Port of Saldanha Bay Port Control and Telkom Maritime Radio Services were also alerted.

“On arrival on the scene three men were found on the beach and the open snoek fishing boat was found washed ashore on the beach. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) efforts were commenced, by paramedics on one local adult man, reported to be the skipper.

After all efforts to resuscitate the man were exhausted, sadly he was declared deceased by paramedics.

“Two survivors were treated on the scene by paramedics for non-fatal drowning symptoms and injuries.

One of the survivors was transported to hospital by EMS ambulance in a stable condition. Another survivor was not transported to hospital, he was transported to his home by police. A search commenced for one missing man,” said Lambinon.

Despite an extensive sea and shoreline search, there remained no sign of the missing man.

The incident came as the family of Marshal Titus, one of 11 fishermen presumed to have drowned when one of Sea Harvest’s hake deep-sea trawl vessels sank, are demanding transparency and answers from the company.

The 35-year-old originally from Wolseley was among 20 crew aboard the MFV Lepanto which sank on Friday at about 34 nautical miles offshore from Hout Bay. Nine crew were rescued.

Titus stayed in Manenberg with his wife and two children aged 10 and 3 years old.

Speaking to the Cape Times, his widow, Elmina Titus, said she was “disgusted” with the company’s lack of sensitivity and treatment.

“We are not happy with how things were done from the start, instead of the company officials sending someone to deliver the tragic news I received a call. What if I experienced a heart attack, now my children would have been orphans. My husband and the breadwinner of this house is gone. I had to make my way there Saturday to find answers but we were just fed lunch.

“As families we were only told there was an accident and we were separated from those who survived. It’s like they are just trying to protect themselves while we need closure. Some officials only came here at home late on Sunday.

We saw on TV that they are pronounced to have drowned, this really angered me,” said Elmina.

She said her eldest child was struggling to cope and there has been no professional counselling.

“I last spoke to him (Marshal) on Friday. He texted me asking how the children were.

“They left Tuesday but apparently the boat had an engine problem so he came back home and they left again on Wednesday,” she added.

Melissa George, Marshal’s sister, said the incident was affecting their parents, who heard the news on Saturday.

She also expressed anger over how the company has managed the tragedy.

Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said Table Bay Harbour police registered an inquest docket for investigation. Sea Harvest group corporate affairs manager Anthea Abraham said the company was committed to answering questions; however, it wanted to give room for investigations.

The company had publicly stated the vessel had recently undertaken a mandatory service and had been operational for years with an “excellent safety track record with zero reportable safety incidents in the last five years”.

“There is an active investigation that is currently under way by the regulator, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). We kindly request your patience as we assist in this process and continue meeting with the bereaved families and survivors. Our key priority is to support our people and the affected families at this tragic time,” said Abraham.

Food and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Zolani Mbanjwa said it was concerned regarding the wisdom directed by those in management at Sea Harvest who “risk exposing their crews to the Cape of Storms in what many would consider to be an old rust bucket that should have been decommissioned years ago”.

“Recent comments from Sea Harvest ... that ‘keeping our staff safe is our priority’ simply do not ring true. We submit that profits cannot be measured in lives lost and we are even more alarmed to understand that as we speak Sea Harvest has in operation another five vessels that are older than 60 years and another five that are 50 years old. The age of the fleet is deeply troubling.

“We call on the leadership and shareholders at Sea Harvest to divest themselves from old vessels that could result in similar tragedy and unnecessary loss of life and to swiftly introduce safe and seaworthy vessels,” said Mbanjwa.

Sea Harvest did not respond to questions related to Fawu’s allegations.

Cape Times