140218. Cape Town. Coenraad "Coenie " Coetzer dive master aboard another ship that rescued the Shark Team vessel minutes after it capsized in 2008, walks out of the Cape Town High Court. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - None of the passengers or crew on board the shark cage diving boat which capsized near Kleinbaai were wearing life jackets, the diver who helped in the rescue told the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

Coenraad “Coenie” Coetzee, who was working as a dive master on the shark cage diving boat, the White Shark, became tearful as he recalled the moments leading to the rescue six years ago.

His was the first boat to assist the overturned vessel on the morning of April 13, 2008.

“When we got to them (Shark Team), I saw wetsuits and the life raft floating away. The people were in the water with objects floating around. We had to look for the people and throw out our jackets to help them,” he said.

During cross-examination, he admitted that Shark Team skipper, Grant Tuckett, had assisted people on to the overturned hull in order to get them out of the water.

Coetzee was testifying in the case brought to court by Sarah Tallman, 40, of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Tallman’s husband, Chris Tallman, his friend Casey Lajeunesse, and Norwegian tourist Kenneth Rogue drowned. Sixteen people were rescued.

The respondents in Tallman’s $2.2 million (R24m) suit include Tuckett and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects.

She claimed her husband had died as a result of the defendants’ “negligence” and the capsizing of Shark Team.

Coetzee said Tuckett had told him 10 clients were on board his boat when he asked how many there were.

“Everyone we saw, we pulled out of the water. Once we couldn’t see anyone else in the water, we left because we were afraid that another set of waves would come. Tuckett was the last out of the water and he said... everyone was on board. We asked people to check if anyone was missing. One man said his friend was not on board. That’s when (Tuckett) said there may have been 11 clients instead of 10.”

Coetzee said harbour control was contacted to alert them to the missing passenger.

When advocate David Melunsky questioned if Tuckett had arranged for a head count after the rescue, Coetzee said: “No, he was just sitting with the guys, shocked.”

He became tearful when advocate Michael Wragge, for the defendants, asked Coetzee to recall the rescue from a picture taken on the day.

Wragge questioned how Tuckett was expected to keep tally of his passengers in the “chaos” of the rescue.

Coetzee answered: “It was organised chaos because he got all the people to sit in the cabin. The skipper of that boat must account for his passengers. Once he was pulled on to our boat, he could’ve done it then.”

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Cape Times