Robben Island ferry chaos

Cape Town. 061010. The Robben Island Ferry Sikhululekile that is stranded in Cape Town Harbour. Picture Leon Lestrade.

Cape Town. 061010. The Robben Island Ferry Sikhululekile that is stranded in Cape Town Harbour. Picture Leon Lestrade.

Published Dec 27, 2013



Cape Town - Visitors eager to pay homage to Nelson Mandela were furious when the Robben Island Museum cancelled trips because its flagship ferry had broken down again.

This is the second holiday season in a row that ferries were not running properly.

Two trips to the island were cancelled on Thursday after the Robben Island Museum failed to secure enough chartered boats. And the museum has decided not to use a stand-in ferry after tourists had a “terrifying” trip on Sunday. It had hired the Southern Cross from the Waterfront Boat Company because the museum’s main ferry, Sikhululekile, was in dry dock.

The ferry has been out of service, undergoing repairs, since the beginning of the month.

The latest setback is one of many problems the ferry has faced since 2008.

Robben Island spokesman Molefe Mabe said after the Sikhululekile and another vessel went in for repairs the museum had to rely on charter boats to ferry passengers.

“They could not provide us with those boats today, so we had to cancel the 10am and 2pm trips,” Mabe said. Those who were booked on the cancelled trips were given the option of rescheduling or a refund.

Patricia Pillay had flown from Johannesburg and planned to visit Robben Island.


“This is an important time for us, with Madiba passing, to pay respect to him on the island… It is not just some tourist attraction.”

Pillay had booked a group of 11, including three children, on the 2pm trip, leaving from the Nelson Mandela Gateway.

Three of the people in her party were from Mauritius, the US and the UK.

Pillay said they had been told only when they arrived that their trip had been cancelled because some of the chartered boats were being serviced.

She said her party tried to get on to another trip, but were told some trips to the island had been cancelled and others were fully booked.

“We were not able to reschedule for another day. The person who was helping us said he would try getting us on another trip, but that didn’t happen.”

Another group of

tourists described how what was supposed to be a memorable occasion turned into a terrifying experience when the boat returning them to the V&A Waterfront sailed in rough seas on Sunday.

“Waves were breaking over the boat and splashing over passengers,” said Sean Wallendorf, a visitor from New Zealand. “A wave hit and the further we went out to sea the rougher conditions became. When a massive wave hit us, a man fell off his seat and knocked his head. He also hurt his back and could not get up. We were freaking out, Wallendorf and his aunt, Jenna Corker from London, were taken to the island on Sunday on a bigger, closed boat, but were told it was full for their return trip and that they had to use a small open boat.

Wallendorf said he was a lifeguard and experienced in safety precautions. He said the passengers had not been given life jackets when it became clear the sea conditions had deteriorated.

“I know what an emergency is,” he said.

“The further we went out the rougher conditions became. A German lady broke down and cried. She was on the floor and her friends had to come help her.

“An official on the boat heard the screaming of people, but said the conditions were not abnormal.

“Life jackets were then given to children on the lower deck and only one adult on the upper deck.

“I asked the official if he could radio through to the mainland and arrange blankets for when the passengers get back. All I got was a blank stare. The whole thing was so unreal. It was shocking.”

Wallendorf and Corker’s relative, Donna Redman from Rondebosch, said she had bought the tickets for their visit to the island.

“It is disgraceful the return trip is undertaken on an old boat, with passengers putting their own lives and those of their young children in the hands of one or two decision-makers,” Redman said.

“This is very deceitful of the organisers to send you out on a luxury vessel and make you return on an old, small boat.”

Mabe said the smaller ferry had been used in the past without any problems.

On Sunday the boat did not experience problems when it took tourists to the island.

Mabe said the trip had been uncomfortable because of the rough seas. The boat was certified by the South African Maritime Safety Authority and on Sunday it had 150 life jackets on board – 90 for adults and 60 for children.

“According to the skipper, he assessed the situation and there was no need to issue life jackets. Although the trip was uncomfortable it was not life-threatening. Crew on board provided the best assistance they could under prevailing circumstances that day.

“Incidents like this one are unacceptable. Robben Island Museum takes safety seriously and that is why management has decided not to use the boat concerned any more. Robben Island Museum offers its sincere apology to clients who were affected by the incident on Sunday.”

Most trips during the holiday season were fully booked.

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xolani [email protected]

Cape Times

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