July 16 - The Chokka fishing boat Maredon capsized at Sunset Rocks, Cape St Francis, and the SAAF 15 Squadron helicopter overhead. Photo: NSRI St Francis Bay

Cape Francis - One fisherman has been confirmed dead, eight are still missing, and six are recovering in hospital after a chokka fishing boat, the Maredon, capsized at sea off Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape in the early hours of Sunday morning, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said. 
NSRI St Francis Bay duty crew were activated by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) at about 3.30am following reports of red distress flares reported by chokka fishing vessels at sea off-shore of Thyspoint, NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said.

The chokka fishing vessel Silver Eagle had spotted the red distress flares at around 3am and raised the alarm, calling Telkom Maritime Radio Services and MRCC, he said.

An emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) had then also been intercepted by MRCC and additional flare sightings were reported.

Two chokka fishing vessels - Silver Eagle and Megalodon - diverted to investigate and the Maredon was then confirmed to have capsized.

"It appears that Silver Eagle came upon a life-raft and reported that the life-raft had drifted too close in towards the rocks and could not be reached. Megalodon reported to have recovered one survivor from the water," Lambinon said.

NSRI St Francis Bay launched the sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II into rough sea conditions with six metre swells and a gusting to 50 knots westerly wind and rain. A search commenced for survivors of the Maredon, which had been confirmed to have had 16 crew on board.

The South African Police Service (SAPS), Private Care ambulance services, local security company members, NSRI Jeffreys Bay and NSRI Oyster Bay, Eastern Cape government health emergency medical services (EMS), a police dive unit, and an NSRI Port Elizabeth air sea rescue (ASR) team aboard a South African Air Force 15 Squadron helicopter also responded, he said.

Shore patrols and a sea and air search continued. One survivor was transferred from the Megalodon on to the NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II and he was brought to shore and then transported to hospital by Private Care ambulance services in a stable condition.

During the search, members of the public, including the owner of other chokka fishing boats and NSRI rescuers, recovered one dead fisherman on the shore in the vicinity of Sunset Rocks and five survivors were found on the beach at Sunset Rocks.

The Maredon was found capsized and hard aground at Sunset Rocks but surf conditions did not allow rescuers to get close to the stricken vessel during the high tide.

"As high tide approached, waves caused the stricken vessel to roll over a few times and one survivor was witnessed climbing out of the vessel and NSRI rescue swimmers waded into the water and rescued the survivor who has been airlifted to hospital by the SAAF 15 Squadron charlie flight helicopter in a stable condition," he said.

"At this stage there is one fishermen recovered and confirmed to be deceased, seven survivors recovered of which six have been hospitalised and reported to be in stable conditions, and eight crew who are missing."

Efforts were underway to breach the hull of the boat as the tide receded and a search and rescue operation continued. Police had opened an inquest docket and the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) would launching an investigation.

"Sincrere condolences are conveyed to family, friends, and colleagues of the deceased fisherman," Lambinon said.