Warship fires on fishermen
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Cape Town - A ski boat fishing vessel with 10 men on board was accidentally fired at with a heavy-calibre weapon by a warship during a naval exercise about 16km offshore of Cape Agulhas.
The incident happened in the early hours of Wednesday during a joint naval exercise between the SA Navy and the German navy.
Skipper Anthony Day said he believed the warship thought his 28-foot ski boat was one of the small radio-controlled vessels taking part and which are blown up in the naval exercise.
“I tell you, my legs were shaking and my crew was panicking.”
Day, a commercial fisherman from Hermanus, launched his boat, Arctic, from Struisbaai harbour around 2.30am on Wednesday with nine crew.
The fishermen were heading to Twelve Mile Bank to fish for geelbek, which apparently bite better at night.
Earlier, while he waited for his crew at Struisbaai harbour, he chatted to people from a charter company on the slipway that had a black radio-controlled vessel of about 14 foot, which he was told was to take part in an exercise.
The boat was launched but did not leave the harbour. He understood the vessel to be heading to the area offshore of the Denel missile testing range at De Hoop.
Day said he then launched Arctic and motored in the opposite direction from De Hoop.
At sea he saw a ship approaching slowly.
“All of a sudden these three shots went off in very quick succession. They landed about 15 to 20m in front of me.
“It was so close we could smell the gunpowder and so loud my ears were ringing. The crew were panicking.
“It was probably cannons, definitely not small weapons like rifles or handguns,” Day said.
He immediately slowed down, switched on his deck lights so the ship could see it was a fishing vessel, then veered away. Day already had his navigation and anchor lights on.
“It went through my mind they were mistaking me for the radio-controlled vessel and I was told they were going to blow that thing up.”
He said when he was on the other side of the vessel, he could see from the silhouette against the lights of Struisbaai that it was a warship.
“I radioed the ship on channel 16 and said we were a fishing boat, but it did not reply.”
He then radioed Cape Town Radio.
“I told them ‘I’ve just been shot at’. I gave my exact co-ordinates because if they fired again and we were hit, we would be history.”
He said Cape Town Radio made contact with the ship and then told Day: “The commander said they won’t be firing at you any more, it was done in error.”
Day said he had believed the place where the naval exercises took place was offshore of the Denel missile testing range at De Hoop. He said he was 50km away from there.
The SA Navy and the German navy said on Thursday that they were aware of the incident and would release a joint statement once they had established the facts.