SAAF, SAPS, ports authority rescue sailors


Helicopters from the South African Air Force, the SA Police Service and the National Port Authority (NPA) yesterday rescued 15 Indian sailors of a 164-metre long ship that ran aground at Salt Rock, near Durban, in heavy weather.

A SAPS Air Wing Eurocopter AS350 B3 Squirrel light utility helicopter (LUH) rescued eight sailors using its winch, a SAAF Denel Oryx medium utility helicopter saved four more and the NPA AgustaWestland A109 LUH helicopter, from Richard’s Bay, hoisted three to safety.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesman Craig Lambinon last night lauded the pilots and their crews for their “remarkable display of technical rescue flying ability” while sea swells crashed over the ship. The combined efforts, together with that of a salvage team from Subtech Salvors, “averted a potential maritime disaster”, he said.

The Durban-based Daily News newspaper reports that alerted by the NSRI to the unfolding drama, Captain Troy Allison, commander of the SAPS search and rescue unit based in Durban and his team in the police helicopter, piloted by Captain Frans Haasbroek, flew out from the police air wing base at the old airport. Allison and Constable Tiaan Kotze then winched down to the ship to help rescue crewmen of the MT Phoenix.

The weather was “extremely foul” as the helicopter approached the site, Allison said. When the alarm went out to Air Force Base Durban, the call-out was answered by three men from 17 Squadron from Air Force Base Swartkop, Pretoria, who were stuck in Durban because of the bad weather.

The pilot, Major Heinrich Holtzhausen, the co-pilot, Lieutenant Justin Ellis and two flight engineers, Sergeant Ricardo Volanie, from 17 Squadron, and Warrant Officer Class II Bruce Clarke, based in Durban, were promptly airborne, stopping off only to pick up six members of the Subtech Salvors salvage team from the NSRI base at the harbour. No seamen were injured, but Netcare paramedics took them to be examined by a doctor.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement said the vessel started dragging her anchor on Monday evening as a storm moved into the area and “despite the most valiant attempts by the crew of the salvage tug Smit Amandla to reconnect the tow, the vessel grounded at Salt Rock north of Durban yesterday morning. A second tug, the Smit Siyanda, was also despatched to the scene.

A salvage crew was landed on board the vessel to assess whether the vessel can be re-floated or the oil should be pumped ashore. Shore based resources; a large helicopter and anti-pollution equipment are currently being deployed to the scene, SAMSA adds. “At this stage the hull is secure and there appears to be no oil leaking into the water. The vessel has approximately 400 cubic metres of marine gas oil (diesel) on board and fortunately no heavy oil,” the statement added. “SAMSA is engaging with the local authorities and the Department of Environment Affairs when considering the available options. The owners of the vessel are currently not responding to any communications from SAMSA.”