Thandeka Nyandeni Mzimela, 33, who had been employed as a trainee pilot with Transnet for four months, had a fear of heights.
On Wednesday, she tried to climb to an incoming vessel, became overwhelmed, lost her grip on the ladder, fell and subsequently drowned. She was with a senior pilot and another trainee.
A colleague who did not want to be named said: “She had reached the middle rung on the ladder when she shouted she was tired. She yelled buyani, buyani (come back) to the others before she lost her grip. Everyone tried to help her but the sea was too rough.
“Her lifejacket kept her afloat for about half an hour. Then she suddenly disappeared,” said another.
“On the pilot boat, heading out to sea, Mzimela told her colleagues she was afraid and they advised her not to board, but she insisted. She always talked about her fears, but reasoned that it could be because it was a new experience and she would eventually get used to it.
“If she hadn't been nervous, none of this would have happened. I think she got frightened when the ship was rolling,” said a Transnet worker.
Her husband Khulekani Mzimela, a chief engineer at Transnet, is struggling to come to terms with his wife’s tragic demise.
Mzimela had been with Transnet for 11 years and previously worked as a tug master.
Port manager Moshe Motlohi said an investigation had been launched into the incident.