Stowaways recount how they spent three days at sea after being thrown overboard
Durban - It took three days, but “by the grace of God, we swam until we reached the shore”.
That was said by stowaways Hassani Rajabu, 24, and Amiri Sarumu, 20, who survived those three days at sea in March after being chucked overboard in South African waters by the captain and crew of a Chinese vessel.
Rajabu and Sarumu pleaded guilty in the Durban Magistrate’s Court yesterday to being in South Africa illegally and for stowing away on a vessel in Durban harbour in March.
Their statement to the court revealed a harrowing tale of survival.
Public prosecutor Vishalen Moodley read out the charges, saying that on March 23, the pair boarded the vessel Top Grace in the port of Durban.
Defence lawyer Toby Sigcawu said Rajabu and Sarumu, both from Tanzania, had first entered South Africa in September 2019 through a hole in a border fence in the hope of making an income to send home to their families.
They made their way to Durban where they lived on the street, earning cash through odd jobs.
Deciding that they could earn better income overseas, the pair “jumped on to a ship by climbing up a rope on March 23 and hid in the ship. Their main aim was to make a better living in Europe,” said Sigcawu.
But four days later, they were spotted by one of the ship’s officers. They were given life vests and a “makeshift raft”, put overboard and told to “swim for the shore”.
“By the grace of God we swam until we reached the shore,” read the court statement.
The pair spent three days at sea, rowing for the shore, without food and a scarce supply of water, on a makeshift raft they had described to their lawyer as being a crate.
They reached Zinkwazi beach, near KwaDukuza, on March 29 and were taken to Stanger Hospital where they were treated for dehydration.
They were arrested on April 1 and have remained in custody until their court hearing yesterday.
When the two stowaways were found on the beach, the master and crew of Top Grace were still in South African waters and were immediately asked to proceed to the port of Richards Bay.
On April 17, the master of the ship, Cui Rongli, and six crew members Lin Xinyong, ZouYongxian, Tan Yian, Xie Wenbin, XuKun and Mu Yong appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court where they pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of the two Tanzanian stowaways.
In their plea, they said that when the two stowaways were found on board, they were wary of them and asked them to wear masks in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ship’s crew stated the pair refused to wear masks, so they put them in a separate room as they did not know their Covid-19 status and feared for the rest of the crew.
The plea statement said the crew constructed a makeshift raft, gave Rajabu and Sarumu life jackets and water and told them to leave the ship.
“The crew acted in a threatening manner by banging on the vessel’s deck and the men descended into the raft,” said the statement.
The two attempted murder charges of the stowaways were taken as one for sentencing. The ship’s master received a fine of R100000 or four months imprisonment. For failing to report
the stowaways, he was sentenced to a fine of R10000 or three months imprisonment, suspended for five years on condition he is not convicted of the same offence during the period of suspension.
He was fined an additional R50000 or 12 months imprisonment for misconduct, also suspended for five years.
The crew were each sentenced to a fine of R50000 or two years imprisonment for the attempted murders.
All the fines were paid and the master and crew were handed over to immigration officials.
Yesterday, prosecutor Moodley said: “The ocean is a perilous place at the best of times and as South Africa was just coming to grips with Covid-19, finding unknown persons on the ship would have been the scariest for the crew on the ship at that time.”
But sentencing Rajabu and Sarumu, magistrate Anand Maharaj took their ordeal into account. “You put yourselves into a situation which materialised because of an unscrupulous captain who threw you overboard.
“You broke the laws coming into South Africa and boarding the ship, but the captain broke the law putting you overboard,” said Maharaj.
“You have already suffered the ignominy of being jettisoned overboard. If you try this again, you may not be so lucky.”
He sentenced Rajabu and Sarumu to three months imprisonment, suspended for five years.
After the sentencing, Rajabu and Sarumu were returned to Westville Prison to await deportation.The Independent on Saturday