The NSRI Table Bay duty crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following a Mayday distress call from the Robben Island passenger ferry, Thandi, reporting that it was taking on water. Picture: NSRI
Cape Town - “I thought I would die; I thought I would freeze to death out there. There were really big waves around the boat and they were splashing into it.”

These are the words of Zara Walls, 9, of Brisbane in Australia, who had taken off her shoes and was ready to jump into a wild sea after the Robben Island ferry, Thandi, carrying 64 passengers and a crew of four, began taking on water in rough seas at about 2.18pm on Friday.

The wind was pounding at 40 knots and the swells were 2-3m high, according to the NRSI.

Most of the passengers were tourists, like Zara and her family - her mom Ashley, her sister and father.

The alarm was raised by a Mayday distress call from the ferry, received by the Transnet Ports Authority, which immediately alerted the NSRI and other rescue units.

Zara Wall, 9, from Brisbane, Australia was "relieved" to have escaped yesterday's nightmare when the ferry carrying them encountered problems out at a wild sea.

The NSRI Table Bay sea rescue craft, Spirit of Day and Spirit of Vodacom, were launched to join the Robben Island passenger ferry, Madiba 1, that was already on scene.

NSRI stations Bakoven, Hout Bay and Melkbosstrand responded, as did a private boat, two police boats and the Transnet pilot boat.

The AMS/EMS Skymed rescue helicopter, Air Sea Rescue and an SA Air Force Oryx helicopter were activated, although they later stood down.

Other rescue units included Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services’ dive unit, Cape Town Disaster Risk Management and ambulances. The police dive unit was placed on alert.

The NRSI’s Clive Lambinon said when rescue boats reached Thandi, which was closer to the island than the mainland, the ferry was found to be listing and taking on water.

Most of the passengers were still on the ferry, but some had taken to the life-rafts, which were bobbing on the swell.

Lambinon said all passengers and crew were transferred by NSRI from Thandi and from life rafts on to the Madiba 1 and NSRI’s Spirit of Vodacom and brought to the Port of Table Bay, where they were assessed by paramedics.

A woman was transported to hospital by ambulance in stable condition but suffering from back pain and a few passengers were treated for mild hypothermia.

Emerging from the dramatic incident with soaking jeans, a relieved Walls and her daughter Zara hit the shopping mall for new sneakers.

Zara said: “I didn’t know what was going to happened to us. I was really scared. At that moment, I just kept telling myself I was going to be okay.”

The incident did not cloud Zara’s day out on Robben Island. “I loved it, we saw Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. I would come again.”

Walls said: “It was a bit scary. The water was very rough. I think the boat was too small for the waves out there today. Thankfully there were plenty of life jackets.

“We all moved to the back of the boat with the life jackets on. It was quite adventurous out there.”

Zara and her mother almost jumped, having taken off their shoes.

Walls said: “We realised we would not have to jump out of the boat when a very calm gentleman said to everyone, ‘We’re not jumping. Why would we jump if the boat is still afloat?’

“I did not think for one second that I would die. I was just concerned about my two daughters. When the boat was listing, the rescue crew arrived. They were trying to rescue us while calming us down at the same time.”

She commended the NSRI, saying: “Everything was well-managed. They came as quickly as they could. They may have taken 20 minutes to get to us.”

The family will be at the Victoria Falls on Saturday.

The ferry was towed back to the V&A Waterfront.

Weekend Argus