SA Agulhas II. Picture: Gareth Smith

Cape Town - The SA Agulhas II had to conduct an emergency medical evacuation after a woman at the country’s Marion Island research station became ill.

Nompilo Radebe, who works as an ornithologist on contract in the Department of Environment’s Oceans and Coast branch, is now in hospital in Cape Town.

Departmental spokesman Zolie Nqayi said on Sunday Radebe had become ill late last year, and her condition had deteriorated recently.

“Lately she was not responding to medication. The doctor on the Marion team, in consultation with the SA Navy’s surgeon-general, decided on an emergency medical evacuation,” he said.

He said he was not in a position to say what was wrong with her.

The new Agulhas left Cape Town on March 12 for the island, which is in the southern Ocean about 2 000km south east of Cape Town.

South Africa operates a weather station on the island and the station is used by scientists in other fields.

Nqayi said the Agulhas II was due to make a scheduled visit to Marion Island next month to collect the team of scientists and technicians who were due to return to South Africa in April.

“The first option was to see whether she could be kept on the island until their return, but we were informed that she was critical and not responding to medication. We then considered using other cheaper alternatives, including the old SA Agulhas.

None of the other suitable vessels was available and only the SA Agulhas II was available to travel to Marion Island at short notice,” he said.

The fisheries patrol vessel the Sarah Baartman, a smaller vessel, was designed to do deepsea patrols around Marion and Prince Edward Islands, and would have been able to carry out the rescue at a lower cost. However, the vessel is in Simon’s Town awaiting repairs after a year under naval management.

The daily cost of running the Agulhas II is around R250 000. It takes around five days to reach Marion Island.

Cape Times