Gabela was one of five Sharks Board workers who were involved in a fatal accident after the boat they were in capsized off the coast of Richards Bay on Wednesday.
The search for Gabela entered its second day yesterday having started on Wednesday morning as soon as the authorities realised that the boat, skippered by Richard Gumede, had capsized.
Four boats were involved in the search conducted yesterday by the city of Umhlathuze in conjunction with the SAPS search and rescue unit, but Gabela’s body had not been recovered by the late afternoon.
After an extensive search, authorities announced last night that the search had been called off.
“We are, however, just waiting for his body to pop up. There is very little chance that he could be alive,” said a rescue official yesterday.
Shakier Hiraman, the chief sports and recreation officer at the city of Umhlathuze, was the first person at the scene of the accident on Wednesday.
“I found the boat flipped over at about 6.45am and I decided to rush there and help with the rescue,” he said yesterday.
When he arrived at the boat, some of the Sharks Board workers were stuck on it, as they had become entangled in the nets that were on the boat.
Hiraman then got a knife and cut the nets, releasing the workers.
“I managed to get two people out of the water by myself and another one floated to the rocks. The other two disappeared,” Hiraman said.
The five workers had been servicing the shark nets when the boat capsized, apparently due to rough seas.
Sihle Zikalala, the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said the incident was the first of its kind in the 60-year history of the Sharks Board. He said that when the workers set out to inspect the nets, the sea conditions had been normal, but it is believed they had quickly changed.
“We have been informed that the seas suddenly changed when they were already working, thus tipping the boat over,” Zikalala said.
He said the boat had been “operated by one of our very experienced skippers who had been with the Sharks Board for more than 18 years. He has won numerous awards for exceptional performance”.
Rescuers later managed to find the other person who had disappeared. He was said to be in a critical condition in hospital yesterday.
The two people Hiraman rescued later died.
Speaking to The Mercury yesterday, Hiraman said he had not thought much about the incident as he had been busy with the search.
“It is a difficult one because I knew the skipper of the boat very well,” he said.
“He is someone with whom we worked closely.”
Zikalala, accompanied by the mayor of uMhlathuze, Mduduzi Mhlongo, and Mthokozisi Radebe, the chief executive of the Sharks Board, visited the families of the victims and the survivors on Wednesday.
“We would like to send our sincere condolences to the families of our employees who passed on. We also wish those who survived the ordeal a speedy recovery,” he said.
He added that the Sharks Board would be offering professional counselling to the survivors.