DURBAN - THE two crew members who died when the Shayamanzi I luxury houseboat caught fire on Lake Jozini at the weekend have been described as dedicated employees who were loved and adored by the guests.
The crew members are Malawianborn chef Michael Phiri, 51, and deck hand Maxwell Nyawo, whose body is still missing. German tourist Michael Mirschel, 64, also died.
On the company’s Facebook page in 2013 when Phiri completed 11 years of service, it praised him for his dedicated service, saying he had received dozens of job offers from its guests every year. “Everyone who met him wanted to take him home with them. The other day I was working at my desk when a Facebook message popped up; it was a recent guest longing for one of Mike’s tasty lunches.”
The company in the post praised Phiri for being one of its most valued team members because of his charm, friendly and respectful manner, his sense of humour and his great love of cooking delicious food for guests.
Speaking to The Mercury from Pongola, Phiri’s wife Thandi Phiri said the family was still in shock but were making funeral arrangements with his relatives from Malawi.
Thandi said their three children were still in shock. Phiri worked for the business since 2002.
“We are completely devastated and we are still trying to make sense of what could have gone wrong. My husband worked for the luxury boats when they started and his death was completely unexpected.
“We are still discussing with his brothers in Malawi on sharing more details with the public.”
In a previous interview with the company, Nyawo of Ingwavuma in northern KwaZulu-Natal, said he started working for the company when the boat was built in 2007. “I was one of the contractors who worked on building Shayamanzi. Once the boat had been built I was very fortunate to be offered a job aboard.”
Police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala said inquest dockets had been opened.
Phiri would have celebrated his 51st birthday on Sunday.
She said the deceaseds’ families had been informed of the fire.
“It is believed that the crew members and the tourists were wearing life jackets when they fled the boat, but unfortunately, Phiri and Mirschel’s bodies were later retrieved,” said Gwala.
She said that Nyawo was still missing.
The SA Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson Tebogo Ramatjie said it would continue with the investigation, adding that the search and rescue operation for the missing crew member was still under way.
The MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ravi Pillay, visited the bereaved families.
“I have no reason to believe that this is not an exceptional incident. The maritime industry has high safety standards. We expect the highest safety standards to be observed and there is no reason at this stage to say that they were not observed.”
The provincial department said the owner of the company, Rodger Blevin, said this was the first incident of this nature in the company’s two decades of operations.