More than 20 crew members were saved during a rescue operation after their vessel started to sink in rough seas off the Cape South Coast. File picture

Cape Town - More than 20 crew members were saved during a rescue operation after their fishing vessel started to sink in rough seas off Danger Point on the Cape South Coast.

The South African maritime safety authority’s maritime rescue coordination centre (MRCC) coordinated the rescue of 22 crew in the early hours of Friday after the fishing vessel Ellis S, owned by Sevlak Investments, began taking on water off Danger Point which is near Gansbaai.

According to a statement from Samsa, the vessel took in water after struggling in heavy seas, with waves of three to four metres and with the wind blowing at around 30 kilometres per hour.

"MRCC received a distress signal at 00h:49 am on Friday via the maritime radio service, that the fishing vessel was taking in water and starting to sink."

MRCC chief Jared Blows said they acted promptly to coordinate the rescue. “MRCC also used the automatic identification system installed at the centre for monitoring vessels to quickly identify which vessel it was and as well contacted vessels that were in close proximity to the scene.

“Vessels that were identified to be the closest to the scene were requested to change course to the location to assist,” said Blows.

First on the scene was the I&J fishing vessel Fuchsia, followed by the Realka and finally the Singaporean flagged motor tanker,  Aral Sea.

The Fuchsia, even with waves breaking over the stern of the partially submerged Ellis S, was able to go alongside it and transfer all 22 crew on board Samsa said.

The Aral Sea stood by and provided lighting using its spotlights, thereby enabling an easier handling of the transfer.

All crew members were brought to safety on board the Fuchsia. The distressed vessel sunk within minutes of them being saved from it.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) was initially dispatched to assist but the nearby ships had managed to effect the rescue.

“Rescue efforts concluded at 08:24 this morning when all rescued crew were landed safely ashore in Hermanus,” Blows said.

The crew of the Ellis S was taken ashore to waiting medical services and other relevant authorities who attended to them.

Samsa will conduct further investigations as to what caused the vessel to flood and eventually sink.