One of the two offshore crew boats, Princess Johanna. Picture: Keith Betts
Two offshore support vessels, named Princess Johanna and Princess Jennifer, arrived in Durban last week seeking shelter and repairs in Durban following what has been a difficult voyage from Singapore.

The two 45m-long, 7.6m-wide all-aluminium mono-hulled vessels are being delivered to a new owner in Nigeria from the builder in Singapore, Penguin Shipyards.

In Nigeria they will serve as crew boats, delivering change of crew and supplies to oil rigs and other vessels out in the Gulf of Guinea, an area that in terms of rampant piracy is classified as the most dangerous in the world. For that reason, the vessel design offers an all-round wheelhouse ballistic protection (windows and panels), seating for a large number of passengers, a 110-square metre cargo deck and an external firefighting monitor.

As well as performing the duties of crew boat the vessels, classified as Penguin Flex Fighter crew boats, are able to perform as multi-role security boats.

During the crossing of the Indian Ocean, which commenced when they left Singapore on June 29, Princess Johanna and Princess Jennifer, sailing in convoy, ran into heavy weather with strong seas and waves that reached more than10m that “were coming from all sides”.

Eventually they reached Mombasa in Kenya on July 14, ahead of continuing their journey down the Mozambique Channel.

However, on Sunday night, July 29-30, they ran into even worse bad weather that had been preceded by a strong south-westerly “buster” that blew along the KwaZulu-Natal coast on the Sunday afternoon.

Several of the crew described this as just as bad if not worse than the storms in mid-ocean, with the little ships being buffeted by waves from all directions.

“We were tossed from one side to another, without any let-up throughout each storm. We thought the worst was over after crossing the Indian Ocean and did not expect those seas near Richards Bay,” said one of the crew. “Is it always like this?”

During the voyage, a number of cracks developed in several sections of the ships’ hulls, and were made worse during the storm near Richards Bay. Hence a call was made for repairs to be undertaken in Durban, where the two craft arrived on the Monday.

They are now (the following Monday) being attended to in the calm and safe waters alongside Southern African Shipyards ship repair quay at Bayhead.

These repairs will be completed before the two ships depart on the next leg of their journey, while the crew of 14, who all come from Lithuania, are hoping for a kind weather window as they sail down the occasionally notorious KZN South Coast and Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast before reaching the Cape of Good Hope.

Following that, they turn north along the west coast until Nigeria is reached, after which the crew will return home or to another assignment.

Both vessels were completed in 2015 for the Pelican Offshore Malaysian Corp, which runs a fleet of similar patrol, crew and supply boats. Each vessel has a gross weight of 260 tons and a draught of 1.8m.

Engine power comes in the form of three Caterpillar C32 main engines providing for a speed of up to 28 knots and a fuel capacity of 93 000 litres to provide long endurance.

Smart looking and impressive in every respect, they definitely were not designed for long ocean-crossing voyages.