The South African Navy Valour-class frigate, SAS Isandlwana, is encountering heavy weather – rain and strong wind – in the South Atlantic. The ship is headed for Tristan da Cunha to assist and rescue 11 seriously-injured Taiwanese sailors landed there earlier this week after an explosion caused by an ammonia gas leak aboard the fishing vessel Lai Ching.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (SAMSA) Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre asked the South African National Defence Force to conduct the rescue operation after the explosion last week Friday. The Isandlwana set sail for the island, a rocky British possession crowned with a South African weather station, on Monday.
The Cape Times reports five crew were killed in the accident, four went missing at sea and the remaining 24 survived by abandoning ship, getting into lifeboats and waiting for help. After floating in “choppy seas on lifeboats for a while”, they were picked up by a nearby vessel, the Shiang Man Ching, the paper says, some 800 nautical miles south-west of Tristan da Cunha. This vessel then offloaded 11 severely injured crew members on the island on Monday, where limited medical help is available.
The Shiang Man Ching then sailed for Cape Town with the 13 remaining “slightly” injured crew. SAMSA in a statement overnight added the ship, also a Taiwanese fishing vessel, was by yesterday afternoon approximately 840 nautical miles from Cape Town. “The ‘Shiang Man Ching’ is currently sailing towards Cape Town with the remainder of the crew – travelling at a average speed of 10 knots. It is estimated that she will arrive in Cape Town on Monday around noon at her current speed,” SAMSA says.
The 11 men offloaded on the island are meanwhile receiving emergency medical treatment at the medical facility while they await the arrival of the navy frigate, SAMSA added. The frigate’s sickbay includes emergency ward and dental facilities, an operating theatre as well as an emergency operating theatre with resuscitation and triage capabilities. The Isandlwana is carrying a medical team including 11 Western Cape Provincial Department of Health Emergency Medical Service personnel, comprising two emergency medical doctors, four advanced life support paramedics and five rescue technicians.
The Cape Times adds a number of Chinese and Taiwanese publications had reported that the majority of the crew had been from the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. Two had been Taiwanese and three Chinese. According to the publication The Chinese Post, Chang Ching-Chiao, Lai Ching’s chief engineer from Taiwan, was one of the five killed in the accident.