SAAF helps NSRI evacuate injured ship’s crew


The South African Air Force (SAAF) has used two of its helicopters to assist the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) to medically evacuate five injured crewmembers from a ship sailing off the coast of Durban.

According to Jonathan Kellerman, NSRI Durban station commander, the NSRI, Netcare 911 ambulance services and SAAF were on the morning of 7 January tasked by the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) to prepare to respond to rendezvous with a Heavy Lift Vessel approaching Durban to assist five Brazilian crewmen who were injured on board.

One crew member died and his body remained aboard the BOKA Vanguard Heavy Lift Vessel, which was in the process of carrying the newly built floating production, storage and offloading vessel Petrobras 70 from a shipyard in China to Brazil.

A SAAF BK-117 helicopter from 15 Squadron’s Charlie Flight in Port Elizabeth and an Oryx from 15 Squadron’s Alpha/Bravo Flights in Durban were tasked to respond – their primary role is maritime and landward search and rescue.

On Tuesday afternoon, the sea rescue craft Alick Rennie launched from the NSRI’s Durban Sea Rescue station, accompanied by a Netcare 911 rescue paramedic and an IPSS rescue paramedic, to respond towards the ship to stand-by on the scene.

The Oryx helicopter, accompanied by two Netcare 911 rescue paramedics and an NSRI medic and the SAAF 15 Squadron, Charlie Flight, BK-117 helicopter, accompanied by two NSRI rescue swimmers, responded from Durban.

“On arrival on the scene, 28 nautical miles off-shore East of Durban, the SAAF Oryx helicopter landed on the ship’s helicopter pad. The SAAF BK-117 helicopter and the sea rescue craft stood-by on the scene while Netcare 911 rescue paramedics and the NSRI medic took over care of the five patients from the ship’s medical crew and the patients were transferred into the Oryx helicopter,” the NSRI said.

Medical treatment continued in the helicopter and the five patients, one in a critical condition and four in stable conditions, were airlifted to a hospital in Durban. The NSRI said all five patients are in stable conditions and they are recovering in hospital.

According to Brazilian news outlet Globo, Petrobras has identified the cause of the illness as ethyl alcohol ingestion.

SAAF helicopters often work with the NSRI, under the coordination of the MRCC, to rescue seafarers. For example, Oryx helicopters were used several times in 2019 to assist or airlift crewmembers. An Oryx provided support during the medical assistance provided to a fishing trawler on 12 March off Cape Point; in June, an Oryx and Lynx were used to search for three missing fishermen after their boat capsized near Hermanus; a Romanian crewmember suffering a medical emergency off Durban was airlifted to hospital in a serious condition on 9 August by a 15 Squadron Oryx and on 17 August an Oryx from 22 Squadron airlifted a crewman suffering a medical emergency off a research ship offshore of Hondeklipbaai on the West Coast.