Cape Town -
The skipper of a Cape Town fishing vessel, who spent harrowing hours in a life raft with his 19 crew members after their boat had sunk off the southern Cape Coast on Saturday, was chipper on Sunday after he and his crew had been rescued by a passing ship.
“Whatever happens, you’ve got to keep you chin up,” said Horatio Gomes of Edgemead, skipper of the Starfish shark longliner, which is now lying at the bottom of the ocean about 65 nautical miles south-west of Plettenberg Bay.
“Until then we’d had a very good trip, caught a lot. Now the sharks are eating the sharks we caught.”
Their problems started early on Saturday when the Starfish was about 110 nautical miles south of Plettenberg Bay. The longliner started taking in water.
“The currents and winds were against each other and the boat was bouncing all over the show and I think it damaged the hull. We started pumping the water out, but it was too much. Once the water level got to the bait, there was bait and boxes everywhere and the bilge pumps got blocked so we were using buckets.”
While the crew frantically bailed out seawater, Gomes was at the wheel, driving the vessel as fast as he could towards the coast to be closer to the shipping lanes used by the big commercial vessels.
“I was driving while it was sinking. We got to about 67 miles offshore, but once the engines started flooding it was all over.”
Gomes put out a Mayday call. All 20 on board got into the life raft, pushed off and watched the boat sink“
“You know you can be in the shipping lane and not see a ship for days, then sometimes you see a couple in one day, so we just had to hope,” he said.
Craig Lambinon, spokesman for the NSRI, said the Starfish’s Mayday call had been picked up by Telkom Maritime Radio Services. The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre initiated a rescue operation. The Mossel Bay and Knysna branches of the NSRI were alerted. Telkom broadcast an all-ships-alert.
Gomes said they had spotted a ship in the distance while on the life raft.
“I’ve got this machine which identifies the ships nearby, so I knew it was the Navios Northern Star. It was about 20 miles away. The captain answered our Mayday and he immediately turned around. We were all so relieved when we saw that ship turning.”
It is a tricky operation to bring a 220m, fully-laden ship close to a tiny life raft, but the captain managed to get close to throw a line to the life raft and reel it in.
“They put a rope ladder over the side. Luckily by then the weather was fine… It was a bit tricky because earlier I fell and hurt my arm, but you know, you just do it.”
The Northern Star was en route from Latvia to Singapore when she diverted course to help the fishermen.
Around 3am yesterday the Port Elizabeth NSRI launched their Eikos Rescuer IV and Transnet launched their pilot boat Strandloper, with NSRI crew on board, and the boats went to meet the Navios about five miles offshore of Port Elizabeth. NSRI crew boarded the ship and helped the fishermen into the rescue craft.
“They NSRI were fantastic and so was the captain of the ship. We were very lucky,” Gomes said.